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Announcement of the name and design for the new award to honour "Unsung Heroes"

Rideau Hall Monday, April 29, 1996

Today we pay tribute to the volunteers of Canada. I will describe our plans to honour those volunteers with a new award.

And finally today, we will unveil the name and symbol of the new award, and recognize the persons who submitted them.

More than five million Canadians volunteer for a group or organization. That means about twenty-five per cent of working-age Canadians. In Alberta, the rate of volunteering reaches an astonishing forty per cent.

Unpaid volunteers give their communities more than a billion hours of work every year.

If you count all the informal volunteers visiting the sick or elderly, or organizing community clean-ups, or otherwise giving unpaid help from the goodness of their hearts, then the number of Canadians volunteering is very impressive.

Volunteers help others in nurseries for the new-born, in palliative care for the dying, and everywhere in between. There are thousands of activities: Alzheimer care-givers, AIDS support groups, art and culture groups, help for the aged or the abused; Block Parents, bottle drives, help for the blind; church groups, the Cancer Society, community food banks, crime prevention, coaching sports, citizenship training, and many others.

But I think in particular of volunteers my wife and I have met personally. For example, the retired policeman in Quebec City who organized a distress telephone line, to talk to the troubled and head off possible suicide. And I remember the many volunteers at the Rehabilitation Centre for Children in Winnipeg, where a team of experts has enabled boys with artificial hands to play hockey.

Compassion and charity dominated the ancient culture of aboriginal Canadians, and compassion and charity distinguish the Canadian character today.

When I became Governor General, I asked:

"What is our heritage? What is different about us?

"My answer is rather simple. We have a long history of compassion." And I gave examples of bravery and of helping refugees. But I added a question.

"Are there not thousands of others who should also be decorated at Rideau Hall? Not for once-in-a-lifetime courage, but for daily courage. For monthly bravery. And yearly valour."

In my first speech a year ago, I gave such examples as caring for developmentally-challenged children or for Alzheimer patients. And I expressed the hope that we could "build a national program [to] honour the many, many thousands of our fellow citizens whose quiet daily bravery assures the care of so many among us."

Canadians, and you among them, responded to my question with enthusiasm.

Out of their support we have created a program to recognize volunteers and care-givers, and their great gifts to Canada. Citizens will nominate the most exemplary, dedicated, and creative volunteers they know, and we will decorate them at Rideau Hall and in ceremonies across the country.

Volunteers have enriched the lives of every Canadian, and asked nothing for themselves. Now we will honour the hidden helpers and the unsung heroes of Canada. It is time to give something back to the givers.

The generosity of our volunteers brings help to our citizens and honour to our country. Volunteers ask for nothing; which is all the more reason to honour them.

The rules for the new award are simple. First, it will recognize unpaid, voluntary contributions, generally carried out behind the scenes at the community level. Second, winners may have provided care to an individual, or support for a group or any other community service or humanitarian cause.

Third, they may have served over several years or have made an extraordinary contribution of short duration. And fourth, they will not have been previously recognized at the federal or provincial level for their contributions.

In November we launched a contest inviting Canadians to name the new award and to create a symbol for it. We appointed six distinguished judges of the proposals. Suggestions for the award and symbol totalled nearly two thousand, and the judges had to pick the best of the best.

The names often reflected similar themes such as hearts, helping hands, compassion, care-giving, and service. And they honoured the contributions of historical figures as diverse as Marguerite d'Youville and the late Georges Vanier.

And by the way, many people could not wait. Besides giving their suggestions for a name and design, they sent in the names of hundreds of Canadians with big hearts, who they thought deserved to be recognized.

We will honour some of those unsung heroes during the Canada Day ceremonies on Parliament Hill. And just as much as the flag, or the Mounted Police, or the peacekeepers, or Parliament itself, these ordinary yet extraordinary citizens will show us what Canada means.

But let me get back to our main event today. First we will unveil the name and symbol of the new design, and then we will greet the people who created it.

Out of the many entries, the judges chose a name that is eloquent in its simplicity: The Caring Canadian Award/le Prix du Gouverneur général pour l'entraide.

And they have chosen the striking symbol which I will now unveil. The hand is outstretched to portray boundless generosity. The heart depicts the open-heartedness of volunteers and caregivers. Both the helping hand and the heart support the Maple Leaf, symbolizing the people of Canada and their generous spirit.

Note: figures are mainly from Statistics Canada's 1987 Survey of Volunteer Activity in Canada, as reported in A Profile of the Canadian Volunteer, the Coalition of National Voluntary Organizations, 1989, and in publications of the Voluntary Action Directorate, Multiculturalism and Citizenship Canada, 1989.

Updated: 1996-04-29
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