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Canada Day Message

Taped at Rideau Hall, Monday, June 25, 2001

Today, on Canada's 134th birthday, our country has a marvellous story to tell. And it's a story with over 30 million individual authors – every single one of us.

As Governor General of Canada, I have the privilege of meeting remarkable people. Among them are artists and writers who this year have made a big splash at home by winning prizes in literature, the visual arts and the performing arts. They are also making a tremendous impact internationally. Authors Margaret Atwood and Alastair MacLeod, film-maker Zacharias Kunuk, and visual artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. All of us can be very proud of their achievements.

These are only some of the people of Canada who have made their mark. We're proud of them. They help us to understand just what our country can achieve and the level of excellence it can reach. It is about people doing their best and others appreciating it. It is part of this story that is Canada.

Travelling around the country as Governor General, I've learned more and more about what makes our country so different and so special. About so many other Canadians who make their mark in their communities, in their professions – all in a unique way.

In Dauphin, Manitoba, I presented the Governor General's Caring Canadian Award to Alice Dent. She spends her day visiting people in the hospital, delivering Meals on Wheels, helping those who are mourning lost loved ones. She is there when people need her, giving voluntarily, without fanfare and without asking for recognition or recompense.

It is Alice Dent and the millions of volunteers like her who show us a kind of excellence. It is an excellence of the heart.

Robin Barker-James teaches history in Tillsonburg, Ontario. To give his students an idea of what it was like for young Canadians to fight in the First World War, he turns his farm into a battlefield. Students dig trenches and simulate the appalling conditions under which our ancestors fought and died during that terrible conflict.

Individuals like Robin Barker-James, by teaching history to young people, honour our veterans and make sure that their sacrifice will never be forgotten, will never fade away.

Just last week I presented Decorations for Bravery for acts of the most selfless and inspiring heroism that one could imagine. And yet the people themselves were ordinary citizens who, in a split second, put their own lives at risk to save others. Think of Julien Perron-Gagné of Montréal, who, without regard for his own safety, jumped down onto subway tracks to rescue a woman from an approaching train. He was only 18 years old.

Alice Dent, Robin Barker-James and Julien Perron-Gagné are only three authors in our collective story. A story that cannot be understood without the common history that is ours as a nation, that is ours as Canada.

Recently, I was at a high school in Quebec City. I said to the students that, as an immigrant, I felt I could, in all honesty and enthusiasm, sing our National Anthem with its first line in French "Terre de nos aïeux / land of our ancestors" – just as I could sing "Our home and native land" in English. Because in becoming Canadian, in becoming part of Canada, I have assumed all those ancestors – theirs, and the ones that I have brought with me.

History is a continuum, and our lives are part of that history. If we give ourselves to our country, we are giving ourselves to its total history – not just the little tiny part of it that is our immediate family or profession or interest group.

We recognize that the history of our country did not begin when we arrived here. This land has felt the human footprint for thousands of years. And ours are only added to that. We absorb all this history; we share all our ancestors – our First Peoples and the subsequent waves of immigrants.

And we share what our ancestors worked so hard to create – an equitable, decent society with the huge advantage of being founded upon French and English, two of the major world languages. A society that welcomes people from all over the world, no matter what their colour or religion. A country that makes the world its citizens.

That is what sets Canada apart.

Let's all keep writing the remarkable story that is ours. That is really what we are celebrating on our national birthday.

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