This is the highest level of the Order, CC: Companion of the Order of Canada. It’s automatically given to the Queen, the Governor-General, and the Governor-General’s spouse: other than them, only 165 CCs can be alive at any given time. Any CC who’s also a Canadian citizen is authorized to administer the Oath of Citizenship. Their lapel pin has a red enamelled maple leaf.

Even though you’re given your medals by the Governor-General in a tasteful ceremony, he has no say in who gets the Order of Canada That’s decided by a comittee chaired by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The members of this commitee are:

1. The Clerk of the Privy Council, who controls the civil service

2. The head of the civil service in the Department of Canadian Heritage

3. The chair of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada

4. The chair of the Canada Council for the Arts

5. The president of the Royal Society of Canada

6 through 10. Five people representing the regions of Canada (Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba+Saskatchewan, and Alberta+B.C.)

Even though the building looks new from the front, it’s actually pretty old. This is a view of the building from its side, facing Metcalfe Street. It was built in 1881 and was the Ottawa branch of the Molson Bank, which existed from 1855 to 1925. And yes, it was founded by the beer family.

The Department of Labour rented out its headquarters in this building from 1903 to 1912, and Prime Minister W.L. Mackenzie King had an office here when he served as Minister of Labour (1908-11) under Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

These are the rest of the provincial orders of excellence. All these provincial orders come right after the federal orders in importance and right before the Star of Military Valor.

At top left is the Order of Prince Edward Island, the OPEI, founded in 1996.Top right is the Order of Manitoba, founded in 1999. Confusingly, its post-nominal is OM, the same as the much-higher Order of Merit. At centre is the Order of New Brunswick (ONB), founded in 2000. The two at the bottom were both founded in 2001: the Order of Nova Scotia (ONS) and the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador (ONL ).

As you may have noticed, none of the territories have orders here. The only territory with an order of merit is the Order of Polaris in Yukon, a silvery medal with a blue-white-and-green ribbon.

Some provinces have other medals equalling other federal medals. Only two of these have post-nominals: the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship (OMC) and the Saskatchewan Volunteer Medal (SVM). These, along with the  Newfoundland and Labrador Volunteer Service Medal, are essentially the same as the Governor-General’s Caring Canadian award. There are also medals for police bravery, firefighter bravery and police “long service and good conduct” in Ontario; for bravery in Newfoundland and Labrador; and for firefighters’ long service and firefighters’ bravery in British Columbia. In 2005, the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan issued commemorative medals, similar to the jubilee medals, to mark the centennials of their creation.

There are a few more things in the exhibit - flags and heraldry and the like - but that’s it for medals. I hope you’ve liked it!

As you might know, the provinces (State-like things for you foreigners) can issue medals too. These are provincial orders of excellence, sort of each province’s version of the Order of Canada. For most of these, eligibility is dependent on living in the province.

At top left is the National Order of Quebec , created in 1984 and the oldest of the provincial orders. It’s the only provincial order that has more than one level: from highest to lowest the ranks are Grand Officer, Officer and Knight of the National Order of Quebec. Their post-nominals are, respectively, GOQ, OQ, and CQ (“CQ” because the French word for “knight” is chevalier). The medal shown is for Officer; The Knight medal has silver plate-things instead of gold ones, and Grand Officer has gold plate-things, a gold background, and a white enamel fleur-de-lis.

The order of importance of these provincial medals is determined not by how old or big the province is, but by the order that the awards were founded. That’s why the second-highest provincial order is the Saskatchewan Order of Merit (SOM), at top right. Before 2005 the ribbon colours were reversed, with green on the outside and gold in the middle.

Centre medal is the Order of Ontario, whose post-nominal is the vaguely Dutch-looking OOnt. Like most provinces, its appointment is by a committee chaired by the Chief Justice of the province and vice-chaired by the Speaker of the Assembly.

Bottom left is the Order of British Columbia (OBC), which in 1989 replaced the earlier Order of the Dogwood, which was just a medallion given out a total of 13 times between 1969 and 1989, including to folk hero Terry Fox and Olympic skiier/public official Sen. Nancy Greene Raine.

Bottom right is the Alberta Order of Excellence (AOE). Fun fact: the cross on this medal is called a “ cross pattée”!

Check back soon for the rest of these medals.

This is the Cross of Valor, the highest bravery medal for civilians in Canada. Its post-nominal is CV, and comes in order of importance right after the VC, second overall. The CV is what you get for saving upwards of 3 children from a house fire, or saving Toronto from Hans Gruber. Only 20 people have ever been given it.

The CV was introduced in 1972 to replace the George Cross (GC). King George VI came up with the GC during WWII to improve morale. The most famous recipient of the GC was the entire island nation of Malta, for its naval importance during the war. The Maltese were so proud of this that the flag of Malta has shown the George Cross ever since. (Things that aren’t on the Maltese flag: a Maltese cross*, a Maltese dog, the Maltese Falcon, and a bag of Maltesers.)

* The Maltese cross does appear on the Maltese civil ensign, which is flown by privately-owned boats.

These medals exist in a sort of limbo between nations. They’re awarded in Britain, but have a place in the Canadian honours system. This is considered legitimate, since all awards in Canada are legitimized by being approved by the Queen in her position as the “fount of honour” in Canada. So why don’t Canadians get all the British honours? As is often the case, it has to do with spite.

For a long time most Canadian elites could reasonably expect to be knighted or ennobled if they worked hard enough. Most of Sir John A. Macdonald’s cabinet were knighted, and a number of the financial backers of the Canadian Pacific Railway got peerages or baronetcies. A good chunk of Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s cabinet were knighted, too; in fact, only one prime minister between 1867 and 1920 wasn’t knighted. (That one, Alexander Mackenzie, gave the country the Indian Act, the Supreme Court, the Auditor-General and the secret ballot, so his place in the history books is secure.)

The willingness to be so firmly entwined with Britain started to unravel by Word War I, however, and British honours to Canadians began to peter off in the 1910s. In 1917 prime minister Sir Robert Borden declared no Canadians would get knighthoods or peerages without his say-so. In the midst of this an MP named William Folger Nickle (Unionist, Kingston) had been trying to get a knighthood for his father-in-law Daniel Gordon, then principal of Queen’s University. After years of failure, he introduced a resolution in the House of Commons in 1919 banning Canadians from receiving knighthoods and peerages, which passed.

Since the Nickle Resolution isn’t a law, it has no real authority; indeed, it was ignored under R.B. Bennett and a re-affirmation of the Nickle Resolution was defeated in the House of Commons in 1934. But it has been more or less enforced ever since, most famously when Jean Chrétien used it to forbid Conrad Black to take a peerage, whereupon Lord Black forfeited his Canadian citizenship.

That said, the government seems OK with honours that don’t make you a knight or lord, and here are some of them.

The blue and magenta ribbon on the right is The Order of Merit. It comes right before the Order of Canada in importance, and is the highest honour a Canadian can get without having to do anything dangerous. It comes with the post-nominal letters OM. The Order was created in 1902 by King Edward VII to give out to especially important people such as Florence Nightingale. Membership is limited to 24 living people at once. Only four Canadians have ever been awarded it: prime ministers W.L. Mackenzie King, Lester Pearson and Jean Chrétien, and Dr. Wilder Penfield, the famous brain expert. Lord Alexander of Tunis, the Governor-General from 1946 to 1952, was given an OM in 1959. Whether that counts as a Canadian is up for debate, but most people don’t count him because he was British.

This particular medal belonged to W.L. Mackenzie King, even though you’re supposed to return these medals to the Queen when the recipient dies. Then again, that may be asking much from the man who went to the coronation of King George VI and took his chair home with him as a souvenir.

 The medal lying on the bottom of the case is a medal of the Royal Victorian Order, which was created by Queen Victoria in 1896 to give to people that did favours for the Royal Family. Specifically, the medal in the picture is that of a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order, the 4th-highest rank in the order. Canadians are eligible for the lowest 3 ranks of the order, Commander (CVO), Lieutenant (LVO) and Member (MVO). The highest two, Knight/Dame Grand Cross (GCVO) and Knight/Dame Commander (KCVO/DCVO) are knighthoods, a Nickle no-no. There’s also a Royal Victorian Medal (RVM), for a one-shot good deed to the royals. It comes in three degrees: gold, silver, and bronze.

The medal on the upper left is the elusive Royal Victorian Chain, which has no titles and no post-nominals and is only rarely awarded for personal service to the sovereign. Despite the similar design it has no connection to the Royal Victorian Order; the Chain was thought up by Edward VII in his mother’s memory in 1902. Only two have ever been awarded to Canadians, Governors-General Vincent Massey and Roland Michener. This Chain belonged to Michener; these are also supposed to be given back upon death, so I don’t know what’s going on with them.

Notable for its lack of absence is the Order of the Companions of Honor (CH), which was thought up by King George V to be a more inclusive version of the OM. 65 people can have the CH at any given time. The medal looks like a gold square inside a purple hoop, and the ribbon is red with white squares along the edge like sprocket-holes in film. Seven Canadians have received the CH, two still living: biochemist Dr. Anthony Pawson, former Chief of Defence Staff John de Chastelain, Governor-General Vincent Massey, prime ministers John Diefenbaker and Pierre Trudeau, and World War II generals Henry Crerar and Andrew Macnaughton. Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor-General from 1936 to 1940 and author of The Thirty-Nine Steps, also had a CH, but he was British so most people don’t count him.

If this looks like the case with the military service honours, it’s because it’s close to that in the sense that these are police service honours. 

The three at the top are the last, newest, and most junior of the multi-tiered national service orders, the Order of Merit of the Police Forces. The brainchild of Solicitor-General* Herb Grey, it was created in 2000 to be the Order of Military Merit, but for police.

From left to right, the medals are 2nd, 1st, and 3rd class in the Order: the highest is Commander of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces (COM). After that are Officer of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces (OOM) and Member of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces (MOM).

The Governor-General is a Commander, the Chancellor, and the livery-collar recipient of the Order. The Order of Merit of the Police Forces also has another person at the top, the “Principal Commander”. This is a title given to the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Appointment to the Order is controlled by an advisory committe chaired by the President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. There are 9 other members of the committee:

1. One of the Deputy Commissioners of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

2. The president of the Canadian Police Association

3. A head of a provincial police force (it doesn’t matter which)

4.-6. Three chiefs of municipal or regional police forces (anywhere in Canada)

7.-8. Two people appointed by the Governor-General, and

9. The Deputy Secretary of the Chancellery of Honours.

The two medals on the bottom are awarded for long service, 20 years’ good conduct to be precise. The one on the left is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Long Service Medal, and is the oldest Canadians-only decoration, first given out in 1935.

The red one on the right is the Fire Services Exemplary Service Medal, which is awarded for 20 years in a fire department, including 10 years’ work where you were put in harm’s way (career desk jockeys need not apply).

They aren’t shown in this exhibition, but there are actually a series of medals of differing designs and ribbons called “Exemplary Service Medal”, with the same requirements as this one. Replacing the red on this ribbon with royal blue would make it for service in local or provincial police forces, while using green would make it for correctional service officers. The Coast Guard Exemplary Service Medal uses a similar design with navy blue, but with a thin white stripe in the centre. The Police Exemplary Service Medal with a thin orange stripe in the centre of each royal blue stripe becomes the Emergency Medical Services Exemplary Service Medal, and the Peace Officers Exemplary Service Medal has two thin navy blue strips on the outside, followed inward by two  thin royal blue stripes, two gold bands and an olive green band in the centre.


* The Solicitor-General of Canada was for a long time the cabinet official in charge of what basically amounted to anyone with a gun who wasn’t in the army: policemen, spies, border guards, prison guards, and so on. The job’s name was changed to “Minister of Public Safety” in 2004. The American equivalent would be the Secretary of Homeland Security. The office’s jobs in Britain are larely filled by the Home Secretary.

These are a bunch of medals that got lumped into one case. The central theme of it seems to be “what you get if you’re a good soldier”.

The three blue medals along the top are the Order of Military Merit, a sort of military Order of Canada, or a Canadian version of the Order of the Bath. The one on the neck ribbon in the middle is the highest rank, the Commander of the Order of Military Merit, or CMM. The next highest is the golden-barred one on the left, the Officer of the Order of Military Merit (OMM). The lowest is the silvery one on the right, the tasty-sounding Member of the Order of Military Merit (MMM). The red ring on the medal reads “MERIT MERITE CANADA”, but the Order’s official motto is “Officium ante commodum”, or “service before self”.

There are a few more similarities between the Order of Military Merit and the Order of Canada: the Governor-General is its Chancellor and gets a big livery collar for it, as well as an automatic CMM. Members can put a ring with the Order’s motto (the ring is blue in the Order of Military Merit’s case) on their coat of arms, peeping out behind the shield (or “escutcheon”). The Order of Military Merit’s appointment committee has 6 people: the Chief of Defence Staff, 4 people he chose, and one appointee from the Governor-General.

The two silvery medals below them are the Meritorious Service Cross (MSC) and the Meritorious Service Medal (MSM). They act as a sort of “you done good, champ” for the military, being awarded for a good deed that “benefits the honour” of the Canadian Forces. The Cross is the more prestigious of the two, although the difference in what it takes to get either one is nebulous at best. There are civilian versions of these medals, differentiated from these by a thin white stripe through the centre of the ribbon.

Finally, the red one at the bottom is the Canadian Forces Decoration, or CD. Twelve years in the Forces without getting you in trouble earns you one of these. you get another one every ten years in the Forces after that, but they give you a little bar to put on the ribbon to show it instead of giving you two medals. The Governor-General gets one first day on the job.

This is the official register of the people who have received the Order of Canada. In front of it is the medal that was presented to jazz musician Oscar Peterson, still in its original presentation case. You are not allowed to sell your or anyone else's Order of Canada medals without the government’s consent.

The people written down on this page of the register were made Companions of the Order of Canada between January 22, 1979, and June 22, 1981. They are:

  • Governor-General Edward Schreyer
  • His wife, Lily
  • Head of the Anglican Church of Canada Most Rev. Edward W. Scott
  • President of the Canadian International Development Agency Paul Gérin Lajoie
  • Sociologist Father Georges-Henri Lévesque
  • Nobel Prize-winning chemist John C. Polanyi
  • Justice of the Supreme Court Wishart Spence
  • Founder of the Unitarian Service Committee of Canada Lotta Hitschmanova
  • Inventor, intellegence agent and real-life James Bond inspiration Sir William Stephenson
  • Author Roger Lemelin
  • Justice of the Supreme Court Louis-Philippe Pigeon
  • Biochemist Dr. Harold Copp
  • President of the National Research Council of Canada J. Larkin Kerwin
  • Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario Pauline McGibbon
  • Cancer victim, medical-research fundraiser and national hero Terry Fox
  • Author Margaret Atwood