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Medals and Memory: Honouring our Armed Forces

For the Week of Monday, November 6, 2017

On November 9, 2009, Governor General Michäelle Jean presented the inaugural set of 46 Sacrifice Medals. These medals, alongside over 220 other medals and decorations, commemorate the service, actions, and achievements of members of the Canadian Forces.

Medals often commemorate specific conflicts. One of Canada’s earliest, the Canada General Service Medal, recognized service during two of the Fenian Raids (1866-1871) – the Battle of Ridgeway (1866) and the 1870 Fenian Raid – and during the Red River Expedition (1870)
© Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1973-36-11M

Canada’s highest military award is the Victoria Cross (VC), a British decoration given to Canadians until 1945 (It was later replaced by a Canadian VC, established in 1993 and first unveiled in 2008). It recognizes uncommon bravery, valour, self-sacrifice or devotion to duty. Dr. Campbell Mellis Douglas, born in Grosse-Île, Quebec, in 1840, became one of Canada’s earliest VC recipients while serving with the British Medical Service. During an expedition to Little Andaman Island in the Bay of Bengal in 1867, Dr. Douglas and four British soldiers rescued 17 officers and men. Despite a fierce storm, they made several trips through rough seas in a small row boat, ferrying the men from the beach to their ship. His was one of only six VCs awarded for bravery displayed even when no enemy was present.

Some military honours pay tribute to acts of bravery, while others acknowledge sacrifices in the line of duty. Since its establishment during the First World War, the Memorial (Silver) Cross has been given to the next of kin (historically mothers and widows) of Canadian Forces personnel who died as a result of active duty. Each year, the Royal Canadian Legion selects a Memorial Cross recipient to be the National Memorial (Silver) Cross Mother, representing Canadian mothers during the annual Remembrance Day commemorations.

Mrs. Charlotte Susan Wood, the first National Memorial (Silver) Cross Mother, 1936
© Library and Archives Canada / PA148875

The Sacrifice Medal is part of a long tradition that honours, often posthumously, the sacrifices made by armed forces personnel and civilians alike. One recipient, Dr. Glyn Raymond Berry, a diplomat, was killed in a suicide attack, while working alongside the armed forces. Sacrifice Medals recognize those who, under honorable circumstances, are killed or wounded by hostile action, or who died from an injury or disease related to their work with Canada’s military.

To learn more about remembrance in Canada, read Lest We Forget and Roads of Remembrance in the This Week in History archives. The Ridgeway Battlefield is a designated national historic site, to learn more, read Battle of Ridgeway.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada, and be sure to visit the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada webpage. Explore Canada 150!

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