Canada has several different systems for awarding bravery, sacrifice and honour among both its military, emergency and civilian populations. The highest award for valor in Canada still remains the Victoria Cross, although Canada officially opted out of the original Commonwealth VC award system in 1977 and instituted instead its own replacement, the Victoria Cross of Canada. The Victoria Cross is still seen by most people in Canada as the single greatest symbol of bravery and sacrifice a person can be awarded.
The following is a list of the medals that Canadians can earn through hard work, bravery, dedication and, in many cases, by giving up their lives for a higher ideal.
The Victoria Cross of Canada
The highest military award available in Canada, the VC (Canada) is an exact copy of the original Commonwealth Victoria Cross. The difference between the two, of course, is that a limited number of Commonwealth VC’s were forged in 1856, designed by Queen Victoria herself, and are thus of immense monetary value whereas the VC (Canada) is newer and, although almost an exact copy of the British one, isn’t worth millions of dollars.
Of course, the monetary value of a medal isn’t what the medal is about. The same very stringent criteria for being awarded a VC, regardless of where it was stamped, still applies, specifically “..the most conspicuous bravery, a daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty, in the presence of the enemy.”
Between 1900 (the Boer War) and 1953 (the Korean War), 94 Canadians were awarded with the original Victoria Cross. Since 1993, when the Canadian Victoria Cross was established, not a single Canadian has won it, despite all the bravery and sacrifice shown by Canadian military personnel in peacekeeping missions such as Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo; and combat missions such as in Afghanistan.
The next-highest award for bravery in the face of adversity, after the Victoria Cross, is an award for civilians and emergency workers. The Cross of Valour is awarded for acts of bravery and/or sacrifice by Canadians and/or people acting in Canada’s interests (therefore foreign nationals can also be awarded the Cross). An application for award can be made and following a court inquest the recipient will be awarded at an official ceremony, either in person or posthumously.
The Cross of Valour was created by Prime-Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1967 as a replacement for Canada’s older Medal of Courage, which had never been awarded to a single person. Since its inception, the second-highest medal for courage in Canada has been awarded to 20 people, the most recent being to First Officer Leslie Arther-Palmer of the Canadian Coast Guard after he braved gale-force winds, roaring surf and waist-deep snow to rescue two stranded fishermen.
The Order of Canada
The third-highest award in Canada is available for any Canadian, military or civilian (except for all federal and provincial politicians and judges while they hold office), in recognition of outstanding merit or distinguished service who made a major difference to Canada through lifelong contributions in every field of endeavour, as well as the efforts made by non-Canadians who have made the world better by their actions. In effect, it is a mini, Canada-only Nobel prize.
Nominees to the Order must be able demonstrate, through their actions, that they exemplified the verse from Hebrews 11:16 of the Bible: They desire a better country.
To be awarded an Order of Canada, nominees must go through a rigorous 3-part evaluation system. There are 600-800 nominees every year, and these nominations are first accepted by the order’s Advisory Council. The Council is chaired by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and includes members of Canada’s art’s councils, Universities, Foreign Affairs Department and Aboriginal councils. After the Advisory Council chooses which nominees best exemplify the Order, those successful candidates are passed on to the Governor-General for review, who then chooses the best candidates. The final step is for the candidates to be invested with the Order at a ceremony at Rideau Hall, the official residence of the Governor-General in Ottawa.
In addition to receiving a beautiful Order of Canada medal, recipients receive a certificate signed by the Governor-General, Prime-Minister and by Queen Elizabeth II.
The Order was first established in 1967 as a fellowship award to recognize Canada’s centennial as a united nation. There have since been more than 5,000 recipients, including scientists, artists, politicians, athletes, business leaders and others. Some famous recipients include former Prime-Minister Jean Chretien, singer Celine Dion, actor Micheal J. Fox, political leader Ed Broadbent and, posthumously, Terry Fox.
The Order of Military Merit, or simply MM, is a highly valued military medal ranking only under the Victoria Cross and Cross of Valour in value. It is awarded by the Governor-General on behalf of the Queen for outstanding meritorious service in duties of great responsibility. Nominees are submitted by a commanding officer to the Chief of Defence Staff in Ottawa who, upon approval, forwards the nominees to an advisory council. Upon selection, nominees are reviewed by the Governor-General who then awards the MM to the selected candidate. MM’s can be awarded posthumously.
The MM was introduced in 1972 as a grade of the Order of Canada to recognize military personnel specifically. The MM has 3 tiers, for high-ranking officers, junior officers and non-coms, and for enlisted personnel. There have been more than 3,000 recipients of the MM since it was introduced, including more than 250 awarded for service in Afghanistan.
The Order of Saint John
The Venerable Order of Saint John of Jerusalem is a medal that is available in all the Commonwealth countries as well as the United States of America for recognition of persons who showed devotion to a mission to “..prevent and relieve sickness and injury, and to act to enhance the health and well-being of people anywhere in the world.” It is awarded to civilians and emergency workers, most notably international aid workers, and ranks as the fourth highest medal a person can receive in Canada.
Established in 1823 in France, the Order was originally intended as an award for volunteer ambulance drivers from France and England who participated in the Greek Civil War. The Order grew to international status when, in 1888, Queen Victoria of England granted Royal Charter and the modern St John’s Ambulance was born.
There have since been 1,100 Canadian recipients of the Order, from the First World War to the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004.
Star of Military Valour
This military award is for both living and deceased members of the Canadian military to recognize “acts of conspicuous valour in the face of the enemy.” The Star was introduced in 1993 by Queen Elizabeth II to recognize Canada’s unique military contribution to the Commonwealth, the second most-powerful Commonwealth country after the UK.
The Star of Courage is to recognize any person, whether Canadian or not, civilian and military, for extreme acts of bravery in the face of death. While the person(s) do not necessarily have to be Canadian, their actions have to had included Canadians and/or Canadian interests.
Established in 1972 by Queen Elizabeth II (the Queen loves creating medals), the Star has since been awarded to 417 people.
An award to military personnel to recognize meritorious acts bringing great honour and benefit to their unit. Queen Elizabeth II created the medal for Canada in 1984, and since then 138 people have been awarded.
The Sacrifice Medal
This medal is awarded to members of the Canadian military who sustain wounds or are killed while on active service. In 2008 Prime-Minister Stephen Harper created the medal and it received Royal assent by Queen Elizabeth II. The medal replaces the older Canadian Wound Stripe.
The Memorial Cross
The Memorial Cross is a special award for the mother, widow or next-of-kin of any military service person killed in the line of duty. Created in 1919 by Prime-Minister Robert Borden, the Memorial Cross has been awarded to 702,000+ people in 94 years.
The General Campaign Star
The General Campaign Star is awarded to members of the Canadian military who actively took part in combat operations. Established in 2004 by Prime-Minister Paul Martin, the Star was grandfathered for veterans of World War Two to the modern conflict in Afghanistan.
The Gulf and Kuwait Medal
Established in 1991 to recognize all Canadian military personnel who took part in the first Gulf War.
The Korea Medal
Awarded to all military personnel who took part in the Korean War (1950-1953).
Canadian Peacekeeping Medal
Established in 1988 to recognize members of the Canadian military and police who had taken part in peacekeeping missions. In 1988 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded collectively to all peacekeepers around the world. In commemoration, the Canadian Parliament instituted the Canadian Peacekeeping Medal. To date, 68,000 people have received this medal.
The NATO Medal
Although not a Canadian medal, the NATO medal is awarded to all NATO-member military personnel who take part in a NATO operation. To date, more than 30,000 Canadians have been awarded the NATO medal for operations ranging from Kosovo to Afghanistan to Libya.
Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal
Although there are also Golden Jubilee and Silver Jubilee medals, the Diamond Jubilee was the most recent of the jubilee medals to be awarded so it is the one we have included here.
In 2012 the Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, that is, the 60th anniversary of her reign, and in commemoration the Parliament of Canada authorized the Royal Canadian Mint to issue 60,000 medals to “..honour significant contributions and achievements by Canadians.” Members of the Order of Canada automatically received a Silver Jubilee, as did current and former Governor-Generals.
Police Exemplary Service Medal
This medal, established in 1983, honours 20 years of police service with any of Canada’s national (RCMP), provincial or municipal police forces.
Fire Services Exemplary Service Medal
Established in 1985, this medal honours firefighters who have served for 20 years in any fire department in the country, whether civilian or military.
Protection Force Yugoslavia Medal
Awarded to UN peacekeepers who took part in peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia. 2,000 Canadians have received this medal.
Queen Victoria Scarf
Although not a medal, the Queen Victoria Scarf holds the single highest place of honour amongst any of the Commonwealth Nations. In 1901, at the height of the Boer War, Queen Victoria heard stories about how cold it became at night in South Africa’s Transvaal, and worried about the soldiers who were fighting there. She knit several scarves of gold fabric to give to the troops but passed away before she could knit more. She made 8 scarves which the British Parliament then awarded to 8 soldiers for the most extreme acts of bravery, surpassing even the Victoria Cross.
Canadian Private R.R. Thompson was one of the recipients of a Queen Victoria Scarf. He crawled repeatedly through fields of enemy Maxim machine gun fire to drag wounded comrades back to safety. His scarf was hidden away in an attic until it was discovered in 1964 and donated to the Canadian National War Museum in Ottawa.