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Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson
Speech on the Occasion of the Order of Canada Investiture

Rideau Hall, Friday, March 11, 2005

I welcome all of you here to Rideau Hall, Canada's House. This is the kind of occasion to which this house is dedicated, a time to honour Canadians for their excellence and for their contribution to the greater good.

I was in Edmonton yesterday to take part in the memorial service for the four young Mounties who were killed in the line of duty. It was a deeply moving experience to be among the over 10,000 people – 8000 of whom were police officers – who came to offer tribute and support. It has brought us together, as Canadians, to mourn the young, to honour the sacrifice and to begin the healing. This past year has been filled with stirring reminders of the debt that we owe to those who dedicate themselves to the protection of everything that we hold dear. I've been privileged to be part of the 60th anniversary commemorations of the Normandy invasion and of the bitter Italian campaign of World War II, and there are more to come.

Later this spring, we will commemorate the liberation of Holland, in which Canadians played such a pivotal role, and I will return to help open our wonderful new war museum, which will forever commemorate the sacrifices made by our citizens. With each of these events, we are reminded of the terrible cost that has been paid to forge our way of life. We remember that our safety, our comforts and our freedom were not simply granted to us. They were steadily and courageously built by those gone before, and they have been – and still are – safeguarded by armed and police forces that stand up for what is right, and whose members are prepared to sacrifice for the good of the whole. A wonderful expression of that great goodness is visible in the lives that we celebrate today.

As Governor General and Chancellor of the Order of Canada, I am privileged to confer on you the highest civilian honour that your country can give. This investiture contains echoes of ancient ceremonies of tribute, and yet our Order is less than forty years old. It represents Canada's desire to recognize that you have made a difference to life in all the ways it is lived in our country.

The motto of the Order to which you now belong is this: "They desire a better country." I emphasize the word "desire", because the motto reflects an essential Canadian longing, a deep understanding that ours is a country in progress. At our best, we are in constant search of something beyond, of national dreams and destinies that we reach toward, together. This restless vision allows us to feel that we are living, at least at some moments, in the land of our dreams.

Of course, to "desire a better country" is something that takes time. Nowadays, in a popular culture which often promotes instant celebrity and prefabricated fame, this Order has even a greater importance because it honours sustained effort and genuine personal achievement, most of which happens out of the public eye.

In Europe, among the things that move me most are the Gothic cathedrals. I love to think of those medieval builders who spent their whole lives designing and erecting cathedrals like Chartres, Canterbury, Westminster, or Notre Dame de Paris. Most would have done this knowing when they started that they would never see their work completed, nor would their children or perhaps even their grandchildren. The hundreds of years that such building required could only be sustained by the steadfast efforts of people who saw life as a continuum and their own contributions as an element of human history.

Similarly, your lives encourage us all to take this long view, to appreciate what happens when effort and talent and commitment are exercised over time and in collaboration with other people. You help us to see that our hopes and ambitions are more meaningful when we see them as part of a collective desire. Each of us is carving a stone, erecting a column, or cutting a piece of stained glass in the construction of something much bigger than ourselves.

And what impressive building you have done! You have made enduring contributions to many fields – education, law, sciences, arts and public service. Archaeologist, accountant, surgeon; actors and entrepreneurs, thinkers and writers and doers, you are proof that there are countless ways to make a difference.

Your citations list some of your achievements and aspects of your character. Your collective leadership is also evident in repeated references to you as innovators, reformers, and mentors. Not only do you push the boundaries of progress in your fields, but you guide those who will push them even farther. The citations do not mention your difficult times, but we realize that you have had to overcome adversities and negativity, that you've had to struggle. The best people always do. You have known lonely hours, frustrations, failures. And yet, here you are today, perhaps fulfilling the dreams of somebody else – a hero, a parent, a mentor, a teacher, perhaps a friend who died too soon – someone whose gifts of inspiration or example helped you to shape your future. There are many hands involved in the moulding of the receptacle which is one person's life.

Today, you are surrounded by wonderful peers and accompanied by your precious invited guests. But there are many others here as well. All those who challenged you, who encouraged you, who put an arm around your shoulder in hard times, who said "I know you can do it" – these people are with you here in spirit today.

Soon this snowflake symbol of the Order will be pinned to your outfit or placed around your neck. But please be sure of one thing: it does not end here. This is not a golden handshake! The motto of the Order of Canada urges us to move ever onward. In his great poem, Ulysses, Tennyson speaks of "the horizon which disappears forever and forever as [we] move". Our horizon is the creation of a noble society to which, like the medieval builder of those glorious cathedrals, you will have added your conception, your artful piece of stone.

Thank you.

Updated: 2005-04-01
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