The Current

Order of Canada recognizes ordinary people for extraordinary feats

Some of this year’s appointees to the Order of Canada include everyday folks who strive to make the world a little bit better.

This year’s appointees include everyday folks working to make the world a better place

Gov. Gen. Mary Simon announced 99 new appointees to the Order of Canada last week. Here, she is shown speaking during an announcement at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., on July 6, 2021. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

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The Order of Canada often recognizes extraordinary Canadian celebrities and household names, but it also honours everyday citizens who make major contributions to their country.

Some of the latest appointees include Patricia Ningewance, a language teacher who has worked to protect Indigenous languages, Dr. Ivar Mendez, a spearhead in surgical robotics, and Eli Rubenstein, whose passion is to educate students on the Holocaust through introducing them to survivors around the globe. 

They are just three of the 99 new appointees announced by Gov. Gen. Mary Simon last week. The list also includes actor Eugene Levy and athletes Sidney Crosby and Karina LeBlanc.

Patricia Ningewance, language extraordinaire 

When Patricia Ningewance was forced to go to a residential school as a child, she was barred from speaking her own native language. 

Now, her contributions to keeping Indigenous languages alive in Manitoba are being recognized with an appointment to the Order of Canada. 

For 50 years, Ningewance has been a fierce leader in the preservation and teaching of the Anishinaabemowin language. She's taught it at a university level and authored two Ojibway language books. 

Indigenous languages come 'from this land, no other place,' said Patricia Ningewance, who has taught Ojibway language classes in Winnipeg for decades. (Albert Leung/CBC)

"I love that it contains our world view, who we are as people in it," she said. 

"We have our relationships, we have our humour. It comes from this land, no other place. If we ever lose our language, we can't go to Europe to reclaim it. It's here. So it would be a big loss if we ever lost it." 

Preserving Indigenous languages is vital to Ningewance, mostly because of efforts to destroy it. 

Ningewance says her journey came full circle when she once taught at the same place she attended residential school. 

"It was in Sault St. Marie, a wonderful little university called Algoma University. My office was just … 10 feet away from where my bed used to be," she said. 

But Ningewance's journey to promote her language is far from done.

"We need to raise awareness of the importance of languages," she said. "We need more presence." 

Dr. Ivar Mendez, a pioneer in surgical robotics 

Dr. Ivar Mendez is more than a neurosurgeon — he's a revolutionary figure in robotic surgery. 

He was appointed to the Order of Canada for his work with robotics, specifically for putting together virtual care technology to help people in remote communities.

"The idea is, can we use technology to reach the people that need access to health care?" said Dr. Mendez, who is the provincial head of the Department of Surgery at the University of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Health Authority. 

Mendez has spent nearly a decade working on this technology, where he envisions a hub "populated by physicians, nurses and technicians that will be able to provide health care in real time to remote communities," he said. 

A patient will then be able to visit a nearby nursing station, where they can connect with physicians at the hub.

If a patient is having a heart attack, for example, the hub can connect them with a cardiologist and if needed, get the closest ambulance to take them to a hospital. 

Photo of Dr. Ivar Mendez.
Dr. Ivar Mendez hopes to improve health care by providing virtual assistance in remote communities. (Department of Surgery/University of Saskatchewan )

Mendez said at times, hospitals in remote communities might not have beds available or a specialized doctor around to take a look at a patient. 

"So then the care gets delayed," he said. 

"I have made a decision that all my time will be dedicated to continue to develop this system and be able to one day have this hybrid system that will allow us to provide care, especially to the people that have less access to health care in our country."

Eli Rubenstein, educator of injustice 

Eli Rubenstein's contributions to Holocaust education is a large part of his appointment to the Order of Canada. 

He says teaching students about the Holocaust doesn't only help combat anti-semitism, it also fights against all kinds of intolerance. 

Rubenstein, who is the religious leader of Congregation Habonim Toronto and the annual educational program March of Living's national director, said his education provides universal lessons. 

"[Students] say it's not just about fighting antisemitism and hate towards Jews, [it's] about fighting all forms of racism and injustice," he said. 

The Holocaust is a tragic part of Rubenstein's consciousness, he said. He grew up with a mother who survived the Holocaust and a grandfather who came from a Polish town that was nearly wiped out. 

Rubenstein takes students around the world to meet with survivors and spends time observing sites from the Holocaust. 

"The students embrace the survivors … and they've committed to transmitting the memory of the survivors to the next generation," he said. 

Photo of Holocaust educator Eli Rubenstein.
'In every generation there's going to be forces of evil that rise up and try to get history to repeat itself,' said Holocaust educator Eli Rubenstein. (Submitted by Eli Rubenstein)

Rubenstein hopes his efforts can help people understand the tragedies of the Holocaust. 

"In every generation there's going to be forces of evil that rise up and try to get history to repeat itself," he said. 

He recalls a time when he gave a speech at an event in Montreal, where a survivor came over to him and said: "Please make sure our stories are never forgotten." 

"And I often say to the students ... the only lesson you get out of this is that no human is more human than another human," he said.


Keena Alwahaidi is a reporter and associate producer for CBC. She's interested in arts, culture, and human interest stories. Follow her on Twitter at @keenaalwahaidi

Produced by Ben Jamieson and Samantha Lui