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1967: First Order of Canada appointments announced

The Story

It's Canada's 100th birthday, and what better way to celebrate than to hand out shiny new medals to 90 lucky Canadians? That's the thinking behind the brand new Order of Canada, the country's very own honour system, which welcomed its first appointees on this day in 1967. The brainchild of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, the inaugural members included an opera singer, an author, a small town doctor and (of course) a hockey player. This CBC Radio clip features interviews with two members, including conductor Wilfrid Pelletier who says he was unsure at first whether he would even accept the honour.

Medium: Radio
Program: The World At Six
Broadcast Date: July 7, 1967
Guests: Thérèse Casgrain, Wilfrid Pelletier
Host: John O'Leary
Reporter: Dave Struthers
Duration: 2:56

Did You know?

• The Order of Canada was established on July 1, 1967 (the 100th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada), with Governor General Roland Michener serving as the first honourary member.

• A complete list of 90 official appointments - 35 companions of the Order of Canada and 55 Medal of Service recipients - were announced several days later, on July 7.

• The awards were meant to replace the Order of the British Empire, which Canada had opted out of decades before.

• Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson intended the new honour system to complement his government's other Centennial efforts, like Expo 67 and the instituting of O Canada as the national anthem.

• In addition to Montreal Symphony conductor Wilfrid Pelletier and Thérèse Casgrain, who are interviewed in this clip, the list of inductees included author Hugh MacLennan, humourist Gregory Clark, neurosurgeon Dr. Wilder Penfield, former prime minister Louis St-Laurent, opera singer Pierrette Alarie, and Montreal Canadiens forward Maurice Richard.

• Though these people were appointed to the Order in July, they received their medals at an investiture ceremony in November.

• The Order of Canada medals differ in colour (silver maple leaf for member, gold for officer and red for companion) but all three bear a six-pointed snowflake design and a red-and-white ribbon. While the medals may be passed on to family members after a person's death, by law they can't ever be sold.

• The Order of Canada replaced the little-known Canada Medals, which were established by Prime Minister Mackenzie King in 1943. (The medals were never handed out. King left his cabinet the task of setting up a selection process, but they could never settle on a workable one.)

• Originally, the Order had three levels: Medal of Service, Medal of Honour and Companion of the Order of Canada. The first two grades were phased out in 1972 and replaced with member of the Order of Canada and officer of the Order of Canada. The companion level still remains, and is the highest that can be awarded.

• When Lester B. Pearson announced the formation of the new award system in April 1967, a mix-up from within his office threatened to overshadow the news. The Globe and Mail reported that a government press release stated that the new Order of Canada's motto, Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam, was inspired by Chapter 12, Verse 16 of Hebrews.

• As the paper pointed out, that verse reads: "Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright."

• In fact, the Latin motto was derived from Chapter 11, Verse 16 of Hebrews which reads in part: "But now they desire a better country."

Also on July 7:
1954: The 3,000-seat Rainbow Stage opens in Winnipeg's Kildonan Park. It is Canada's longest-running outdoor theatre.
1969: The House of Commons passes the Official Languages Act, making English and French language services available in the court system, Parliament and federal service administration.
1975: Ed Broadbent is elected leader of the federal New Democratic Party, defeating Rosemary Brown on the fourth ballot of a Winnipeg convention. He holds the post until 1989.


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