[an error occurred while processing this directive] FactsCanada.ca -- Friday Feature 2001-06Fr -- Bravery in Canada
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Bravery in Canada.

February 9, 2001.

We're actually delivering on time today. Please hold the applause. Mike's article below on awards for bravery is a fitting follow-up to our featuring the life of Billy Bishop in last Sunday's newsletter. I hope you enjoy.


Bravery in Canada
By Michael Hora (mike@factscanada.ca)

Canada has a long and distinguished history when it comes to gallantry and bravery in the face of sometimes terrifying and overwhelming odds. The recipients of its medals for bravery and the like began auspiciously in the Crimean War of the 19th century -- Lieutenant Alexander Roberts Dunn was awarded the Victoria Cross, the Empire's highest award for bravery, for his role in the battle of Balaklava. He was the first Canadian to receive the honour, and was awarded his medal by Queen Victoria in London, England, on June 26, 1857, at the first investiture of the Victoria Cross. Named after her, it was Queen Victoria (the Commonwealth's longest reigning monarch) who instituted the award in 1856, and is the premier military decoration for gallantry. It is awarded in recognition of the most exceptional bravery displayed in the presence of the enemy, although in rare instances the decoration has been given to mark other courageous acts.

Dunn, who won the award for his part in the now immortalized charge of the Light Brigade, was a member of the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert's Own), named after Queen Victoria's beloved husband, Prince Albert. (The death of Albert saw the monarch wear widow's weeds for over 60 years.)

Over the years, 93 Canadians have been the recipients of this medal, awarded both posthumously and to those lucky enough to live through their experience. This number includes Canadians who were attached to the forces of other Commonwealth countries and some non-Canadians serving in Canadian units. The former group included the immortal Billy Bishop, Canada's finest air hero, who at the time served under British command. (You can read Bishop's biography in FactsCanada.ca issue 2001-05Su at this link.) The decoration itself is a bronze cross patte, the metal of which is taken from guns captured from the Russians in the Crimean War (in which the first medal was won), and bearing the royal crest and the words "For Valour". The ribbon is dark crimson. The awarding of the medal to Canadians was dropped in 1972 when the Canadian bravery awards were created.

Controversy over some of Canada's medal recipients arises from time to time. Last year saw one arise when a surviving family member of a Victoria Cross recipient was horrified to learn that her grandfather's medal was to be put up for auction at Southeby's auction house. She had no idea as to how or when the medal had come to be in the seller's hands. As of today's date, there has been no legal end to the matter.

The aerial bombing of centres of civilian population in Britain early in World War Two gave rise to numerous acts of the most conspicuous bravery. In response, King George VI instituted a major decoration in 1940 for which civilians and members of the armed forces are eligible. The George Cross ranks immediately after the Victoria Cross in the scale of Commonwealth honours. Recipients have included eight Canadians and one non-Canadian serving in a Canadian military unit. The decoration is in the form of a plain silver cross with, at its centre, a representation of Saint George slaying a dragon, encircled by the words "For Gallantry". The ribbon is "garter" blue. The redundancy of having a monarch by the name of George instituting the award, and having it named after a legendary George, was not lost on the British public of the time. The royal family were lauded for their courage in the face of the blitz and for remaining in London during the worst of it. A very young Princess Elizabeth (soon to be Queen Elizabeth II) was known for her escapades during the wartime blackouts in "jolly old". She and her friends would venture out at night to spend a few hours with the people who had no castles to retreat to.

As mentioned above, Canadian decorations for bravery were instituted in 1972 to serve as a public expression of respect and admiration for persons who perform selfless acts of courage. There are three awards, and their scale reflects the degree of peril faced by the recipients:

- The Cross of Valour, at the head of Canada's system of honours, takes precedence before all orders and other decorations except the Victoria Cross and the George Cross. It is a gold cross of four equal limbs, the obverse enamelled red with, at its centre, a maple leaf surrounded by a laurel wreath. On the reverse is the royal crown and cypher with the words "Valour-Vaillance". The decoration is worn at the neck on a red ribbon.

- The Star of Courage is a four-pointed silver star with a maple leaf encircled by a laurel wreath at the centre and, on the reverse, the word "Courage". The ribbon is red with two blue stripes.

- The Medal of Bravery is a circular silver medal with a maple leaf centred within a laurel wreath on the obverse and the words "Bravery-Bravoure" on the reverse. The ribbon is red with three blue stripes.

Recipients of bravery decorations are entitled to have the relevant letters placed after their names: CV, SC or MB respectively. Awards are made by the governor general with the advice and assistance of the Canadian Decorations Advisory Committee and the investigative resources of the police services.

Canada awarded the Star of Courage last Friday, February 2, 2001, to North Vancouver's Ken Rutland. The special constable for TransLink earned the honour for "acts of conspicuous courage in circumstances of great peril." The awards ceremony took place in Ottawa, Ontario. The 37-year-old was accorded the medal for his part in locating and digging up two avalanche victims on Vancouver's Grouse Mountain in 1997. Not only did he repeatedly dig the two out from several avalanches, he also braved the awesome forces of nature to remain by their sides even as he was being covered by the snowslides himself. Asked how he feels about his courageous acts he replies, "It's something that happened a long time ago. In some ways you laugh about it, in some ways you're embarrassed by it. It's a huge honour."

He now can put the initials, SC after his name. If he has the courage.



On Sunday I delve into the life of Leslie Nielsen, tell you a bit about National Flag Day, profile the thriving metropolis of Phoenix, British Columbia, tell you about the upcoming area code in the Vancouver area of British Columbia, pick up where I left off last year with the music trivia section, list the ten countries with the most inland water (hint: Canada is in there), try to get a grip on what Nunavut really is, give you some movie industry trivia, and do a brief review of a book on Canadian disasters.


Craig says that writing my previews is getting to be like a hockey commentator trying to find new and exciting ways to describe the plays and goals in a game of hockey (although there weren't any of the latter in last night's Canucks game). I hope you appreciate his creativity!



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