Nelson Mandela has become the first foreigner to receive an honorary Companion of the Order of Canada. Mandela was presented with the country's highest honour in a ceremony last night at Rideau Hall.

Governor General Romeo LeBlanc presented Mandela with the medal in front of several dignitaries, including Prime Minister Jean Chretien, former prime minister Joe Clark and Mila Mulroney.

Mandela accepted the award on behalf of all South Africans.

Earlier yesterday, Mandela addressed a joint session of the Commons and the Senate, thanking Canadians for their role in ending apartheid. He also asked Canada to continue supporting South Africa as it builds a democratic state. He received several standing ovations.

This is Mandela's second visit to Canada but his first as head of state. The 80-year-old statesman was last here in 1990, shortly after the white minority regime in South Africa released him from prison after 27 years.

Canada opposed apartheid for years dating back to the days of former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. He's credited with getting the Commonwealth to recognize the cause.

Mandela is in Toronto today to attend a rally at Skydome on behalf of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund. It's a charity set up to aid disadvantaged youngsters in South Africa.