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Honouring 50 years of Canadian Achievements

For the week of Monday, April 17, 2017

On April 17, 1967, Queen Elizabeth II approved the creation of the Order of Canada by letters patent. The Order recognizes the exceptional achievements of Canadians at the local, national, and international level.

The Companion insignia of the Order of Canada is a six-pointed snowflake which features the Royal Crown, and a maple leaf encircled by the Order’s motto in Latin: “They desire a better country”
© Sgt Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall, OSGG-BSGG, 2014

In 1919, the House of Commons passed the Nickle Resolution. It asked that King George V end the practice of giving knighthoods and peerages to Canadians, which were often used by politicians to reward their supporters. Although the Nickle Resolution was not legally binding, it ended the tradition of Canadians receiving British titles, with the exception of military honours.

Canada was in need of its own system for recognizing its citizens’ achievements. In 1935, Vincent Massey, Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, tried, but failed, to create a new Canadian honour system. Less than a decade later, another attempt was made with the establishment of the Canada medal, but it was never awarded.

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Vincent Massey was the first Canadian-born Governor General and was awarded the Order of Canada shortly before his death in 1967
© Library and Archives Canada / R11473-8 / PA-215425

In 1951, the Royal Commission of Arts, Letters and Sciences, which Massey chaired, recommended the creation of a “new, non-titular order of merit.” However, such a merit system was not seriously considered until the 1960s.

Recipients of the Order of Canada are nominated by the public, or recommended by an independent, non-partisan advisory council. The Governor General, acting as Chancellor of the Order of Canada, approves these recommendations and presides over the induction ceremonies. The Order’s first 90 recipients, inducted on July 7, 1967, included Vincent Massey and famed hockey player Maurice “Rocket” Richard.

In 1972, the Order was restructured into three tiers: Companion, which recognizes national pre-eminence or international achievement; Officer, which recognizes national service or achievements; and Member, which recognizes outstanding contributions at the local or regional level. More than 6,000 Canadians have received the Order of Canada since its creation 50 years ago.

Vincent Massey and Lester B. Pearson are designated national historic persons. To learn more, read First Canadian-born Governor General and Canadian Wins Nobel Peace Prize in the This Week in History archives.

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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