________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 4 . . . . October 10, 2008

cover The Beginner’s Guide to Canadian Honours.

Christopher McCreery.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn Press, 2008.
96 pp., pbk., $19.99.
ISBN 978-1-55002-748-8.

Subject Headings:
Decorations of honour-Canada.           

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Val Ken Lem.

*** /4


When the Order of Canada was launched in 1967, it was decided that it should be given to Canadians who made important contributions to "Canada and humanity at large." This is the main reason the motto of the order is Desiderantes meliorem patriam, which is Latin for "They desire a better country."

Two recent newspaper articles appeared just days apart. One announced the Queen's approval of a new award, the Sacrifice Medal, for troops injured or killed in Afghanistan since October 2001. The second announced that six individuals will be awarded the Medal of Bravery by Governor-General Michaëlle Jean in recognition of their bravery during the 2006 shooting at Dawson College. Earlier this year, there was considerable media coverage about a controversial appointment to the Order of Canada and the decision by a few members to resign from the Order in protest. Awards and honours that recognize service or merit are an important, evolving and newsworthy part of Canadian heritage, and yet few Canadians know much about Canada's honours systems. McCreery is one of the nation's foremost experts on honours and the author of two important related books for adults: The Canadian Honours System, and The Order of Canada: Its Origins, History, and Development. The present volume is aptly named as it is a beginner's guide or brief introduction to the subject for young readers.

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     In clear, appropriate language, McCreery outlines the purpose of honours and the three main types of honours in Canada: orders, decorations, and medals. He briefly covers the early history of honours in the colonial era and the ongoing use of British Honours in Canada in the context of the two world wars and the Korean War. During this period, there was an attempt to initiate the Canada Medal, but the medal was never awarded. 

     The Order of Canada was established with the backing of then Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and other influential Canadians, including former Governor General Vincent Massey. Given the central importance of the Order to the Canadian honours system, it is appropriate that an entire chapter is devoted to its origin and design, administration, three levels, and very brief biographies of five individuals who have been appointed to the Order. Eight pages of text are followed by seven pages of mostly colour photographs depicting the various insignia, lapel badges, and a selection of well-known appointees to the Order. The brief biographies contain quotations from their citations and help to make a potentially dull subject more relevant to the reader.

     Abundant colour photographs of insignia, decorations and medals are one of the strengths of this reference work. McCreery addresses all other Canadian orders, including provincial orders, in one brief chapter followed by short chapters on military valour and bravery decorations, meritorious service decorations, military campaigns and service medals, commemorative medals, long service medals, and other awards.

     The final two chapters are the most problematic. "When to wear you medals" introduces the distinction between full-size and miniature medals that are usually purchased privately and worn during the evening with formal dress. What follows is a dry, technical description of medal etiquette for both men and women in various types of dress: dinner jackets, morning dress, business suits, uniforms, overcoats and the use of lapel badges. The final chapter "Chart of Ribbons, Ribbon Insignia, and Commendation Bars" consists solely of eight pages of photographs. Perhaps the space could have been better used to describe some of the controversies around honours such as refusals and terminations of the Order of Canada, or to include more examples of specific recipients of more of the honours addressed in the volume or even to introduce more terminology such as postnominal--the initials designating a particular honour that an honouree is allowed to print after his or her name.

     McCreery includes a short glossary that includes terms such as citation, insignia, obverse and ribbon. The foreword is by His Royal Highness, The Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, KG, KCVO, SOM. A bibliography lists McCreery's two related works and two other titles. Two mailing addresses and websites are noted for additional study: the Chancellery of Canadian Honours at Rideau Hall (www.gg.ca) and the Dept. of National Defence, Directorate of Honours and Recognition (www.forces.gc.ca/dhh). The Governor General of Canada website includes a section on Honours where some of the same information about the Order of Canada can be found. The site includes a database of members, both living and deceased. The Dept. of National Defence site has lots of potential, but much of the content is still under development.

     Despite its brevity and noted shortcomings, the volume provides a valuable service in introducing young readers to the world of Canadian honours. It could find a home in a library's reference or general circulating collection and should be in all public and middle school libraries.


Val Ken Lem is the Collection Evaluation Librarian at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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