The Order of Canada is a Canadian national order, admission into which is the second highest honour for merit in the system of orders, decorations, and medals of Canada. It comes second only to membership in the Order of Merit, which is the personal gift of Canada’s monarch.
To coincide with the centennial of Canadian Confederation, the three-tiered order was established in 1967 as a fellowship that recognizes the outstanding merit or distinguished service of Canadians who make a major difference to Canada through lifelong contributions in every field of endeavour, as well as the efforts by non-Canadians who have made the world better by their actions. Membership is accorded to those who exemplify the order’s Latin motto, desiderantes meliorem patriam, meaning “they desire a better country”, a phrase taken from Hebrews 11:16. The three tiers of the order are Companion, Officer, and Member; specific individuals may be given extraordinary membership and deserving non-Canadians may receive honorary appointment into each grade.
The monarch—at present Elizabeth II—is Sovereign of the order and the serving governor general, currently Julie Payette, is its Chancellor and Principal Companion and administers the order on behalf of the reigning king or queen. Appointees to the order are recommended by an advisory board and formally inducted by the governor general or the sovereign. As of August 2017, 6,898 people have been appointed to the Order of Canada, including scientists, musicians, politicians, artists, athletes, business people, and film stars, benefactors, and others. Some have resigned or have been removed from the order, while other appointments have been controversial. Appointees are presented with insignia and receive the right to armorial bearings.
The process of founding the Order of Canada began in early 1966 and came to a conclusion on 17 April 1967, when the organization was instituted by Queen Elizabeth II, on the advice of the Canadian prime minister, Lester B. Pearson, who was assisted with the establishment of the order by John Matheson. The association was officially launched on 1 July 1967, the 100th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, with Governor General Roland Michener being the first inductee to the order—to the level of Companion —and on 7 July of the same year, 90 more people were appointed, including Vincent Massey, Louis St. Laurent, Hugh MacLennan, David Bauer, Gabrielle Roy, Donald Creighton, Thérèse Casgrain, Wilder Penfield, Arthur Lismer, M. J. Coldwell, Edwin Baker, Alex Colville, and Maurice Richard. During a visit to London, United Kingdom, later in 1970, Michener presented the Queen with her Sovereign’s badge for the Order of Canada, which she first wore during a banquet in Yellowknife in July 1970.
From the Order of Canada grew a Canadian honours system, thereby reducing the use of British honours (i.e. those administered by the Queen in her British privy council). Among the civilian awards of the Canadian honours system, the Order of Canada comes third, after the Cross of Valour and membership in the Order of Merit, which is within the personal gift of Canada’s monarch. By the 1980s, Canada’s provinces began to develop their own distinct honours and decorations.
The Canadian monarch, seen as the fount of honour, is at the apex of the Order of Canada as its Sovereign, followed by the governor general, who serves as the fellowship’s Chancellor. Thereafter follow three grades, which are, in order of precedence: Companion, Officer, and Member, each having accordant post-nominal letters that members are entitled to use. Each incumbent governor general is also installed as the Principal Companion for the duration of his or her time in the viceregal post and continues as an extraordinary Companion thereafter. Additionally, any governor general, viceregal consort, former governor general, former viceregal consort, or member of the Canadian Royal Family may be appointed as an extraordinary Companion, Officer, or Member. Promotions in grade are possible, though this is ordinarily not done within five years of the initial appointment, and a maximum of five honorary appointments into any of the three grades may be made by the governor general each year. As of March 2016, there have been 21 honorary appointments.
There were originally, in effect, only two ranks to the Order of Canada: Companion and the Medal of Service. There was, however, also a third award, the Medal of Courage, meant to recognize acts of gallantry. This latter decoration fell in rank between the other two levels, but was anomalous within the Order of Canada, being a separate award of a different nature rather than a middle grade of the order. Without ever having been awarded, the Medal of Courage was on 1 July 1972 replaced by the autonomous Cross of Valour and, at the same time, the levels of Officer and Member were introduced, with all existing holders of the Medal of Service created as Officers. Lester Pearson’s vision of a three-tiered structure to the order was thus fulfilled.
Companions of the Order of Canada have demonstrated the highest degree of merit to Canada and humanity, on either the national or international scene. Up to 15 Companions are appointed annually, with an imposed limit of 165 living Companions at any given time, not including those appointed as extraordinary Companions or in an honorary capacity. As of August 2017, there are 146 living Companions. Since 1994, substantive members are the only regular citizens who are empowered to administer the Canadian Oath of Citizenship.
Officers of the Order of Canada (post-nominals: OC, in French: Officier de l’ordre du Canada) have demonstrated an outstanding level of talent and service to Canadians, and up to 64 may be appointed each year, not including those inducted as extraordinary Officers or in an honorary capacity, with no limit to how many may be living at one time. As of August 2017, there were 1,049 living Officers.
Members of the Order of Canada (post-nominals: CM, in French: Membre de l’ordre du Canada) have made an exceptional contribution to Canada or Canadians at a local or regional level, group, field or activity. As many as 136 Members may be appointed annually, not including extraordinary Members and those inducted on an honorary basis, and there is no limit on how many Members may be living at one time. As of August 2017, there were 2,281 living Members.
Upon admission into the Order of Canada, members are given various insignia of the organization, all designed by Bruce W. Beatty, who “broke new ground in the design of insignia of Orders within The Queen’s realms” and was himself made a member of the order in 1990; Beatty attended every investiture ceremony between 1967 and early 2010. The badge belonging to the Sovereign consists of a jewelled, 18-carat gold crown of rubies, emeralds, and sapphires, from which is suspended a white, enamelled, hexagonal snowflake design, with six equal leaves and diamonds between each. At the centre is a disc bearing a maple leaf in pavé-laid rubies on a white enamel background, surrounded at its edge by a red enamel ring (annulus) bearing the motto of the order. The Chancellor wears the badge of a Companion and is, upon installation as governor general, granted a livery collar for wear at Order of Canada investiture ceremonies.
The badges for inductees are of a similar design to the sovereign’s badge, though without precious stones, and slight differences for each grade. For Companions, the emblem is gilt with a red enamel maple leaf in the central disk; for Officers, it is gilt with a gold maple leaf; and for Members, both the badge itself and the maple leaf are silver. All are topped by a St. Edward’s Crown, symbolizing that the order is headed by the sovereign, and the reverse is plain except for the word CANADA.
The ribbon is white and bordered in red stripes, similar to the Canadian national flag; the chest ribbon is the same for each grade, save for a metallic maple leaf in the centre, the colour of which matches that on the badge of the grade that the wearer was appointed to. For civilian wear, a lapel pin is worn on the jacket, which is designed as a miniature of the medallion.
Wear of the insignia is according to guidelines issued by the Chancellery of Honours, which stipulate that the badges be worn before most other national orders—that is, at the end of an individual’s medal bar closest to the centre of the chest or at the wearer’s neck—with only the Victoria Cross, the Cross of Valour, and the badge of the Order of Merit permitted to be worn before the badges of the Order of Canada. Those in the grades of Companion or Officer may wear their badges on a neck ribbon, while those in the Member group display their insignia suspended by a ribbon from a medal bar on the left chest. Protocol originally followed the British tradition, wherein female appointees wore their Order of Canada emblem on a ribbon bow positioned on the left shoulder. These regulations were altered in 1997, and women may wear their insignia in either the traditional manner or in the same fashion as the men.
With the patriation in 1988 of oversight of heraldry from the UK to Canada through the Canadian Heraldic Authority, the constitution of the Order of Canada was amended to include the entitlement of all inductees to petition the Chief Herald of Canada for personal armorial bearings (coats of arms), should they not already possess any. Companions may receive supporters, and all members may have the escutcheon (shield) of their arms encircled with a red ribbon bearing the order’s motto in gold, and from which is suspended a rendition of the holder’s Order of Canada badge. The Queen, Sovereign of the Order of Canada, approved the augmentation of her royal arms for Canada with the order’s ribbon in 1987.
The constitution of the Order of Canada states that the insignia remain property of the Crown, and requires any member of the order to return to the chancellery their original emblem should they be upgraded within the order to a higher rank. Thus, while badges may be passed down as family heirlooms, or loaned or donated for display in museums, they cannot be sold by any individual other than the monarch with the proper advice and consent of her ministers. Over the decades, however, a number of Order of Canada insignia have been put up for sale, the first being the Companion’s badge of Major Coldwell, who was appointed in 1967; his badge was sold at auction in 1981, an act that received criticism from government officials.
In 2007, it was revealed that one of the first ever issued insignia of the Order of Canada, a Medal of Service awarded originally to Quebec historian Gustave Lanctot, was put up for sale via e-mail. Originally, the anonymous auctioneer, who had purchased the decoration for $45 at an estate sale in Montreal, attempted to sell the insignia on eBay; however, after the bidding reached $15,000, eBay removed the item, citing its policy against the sale of government property, including “any die, seal or stamp provided by, belonging to, or used by a government department, diplomatic or military authority appointed by or acting under the authority of Her Majesty.” Rideau Hall stated that selling medals was “highly discouraged”, however the owner continued efforts to sell the insignia via the internet. Five years later, a miniature insignia presented to Tommy Douglas was put on auction in Ontario as part of a larger collection of Douglas artifacts. Douglas’s daughter, Shirley Douglas, purchased the set for $20,000.