Order of Canada marking 50-year anniversary

Quintessential Canadian additions to this year’s Order of Canada

Peter McAuslan was 21 in 1967 when he took three weeks to hitchhike from Vancouver to Montreal, stopping in local pubs to watch the Stanley Cup final along the way.

The trip across the country tied together hockey, beer and Canada’s centennial.

Five decades later, McAuslan will be recognized for his efforts to grow the Canadian beer industry as his name is added to the cornerstone of the Canadian honours system, one that’s celebrating a milestone anniversary of its own on Saturday.

It was on July 1, 1967, that the Order of Canada received its first members.

This Canada Day, the list of appointees will grow by 99, including the Prince of Wales, soccer star Christine Sinclair, hockey legend Mark Messier, actor Mike Myers, actress Catherine O’Hara, musician Alan Doyle, and TV host Alex Trebek, making some 7,000 people who will have their names on the rolls of the decades-old honours program.

There are actors and athletes, community and business leaders, and innovators and entrepreneurs, including the beer man McAuslan.

“The whole Canadian-and-beer thing, it’s a romance that goes back a really long way,” the 71-year-old founder of McAuslan Brewery said in an interview.

“They are a reflection of not only who we are, but where we’ve come from.”

While the Order of Canada turns 50 this year, it could have easily been turning 150 if not for decades of political unease about creating a distinctly Canadian honours system, worried it would be seen as another symbol of political patronage.

A royal commission headed by former Governor General Vincent Massey, which provided the foundation for modern arts and culture funding, recommended creating a Canadian honours system like the Order of Canada.

Louis St-Laurent, the prime minister at the time, was adamantly opposed. That portion of the commission’s report was suppressed — technically a violation of parliamentary rules, said Christopher McCreery, who has studied the history of the Order of Canada.

In the lead-up to Canada’s centennial in 1967, Lester Pearson’s government decided to move on the idea and quickly cobbled together everything needed to create the Order of Canada, including an insignia.

Over the past half-century, Canada has gone from having no honours system to having one of the largest and most complicated in the world, McCreery said. Countries like New Zealand and Australia have tried to replicate the Canadian model in their own systems, he said.

“That speaks to the success of the present system.”

The list released Friday by Rideau Hall bears some similarities to the one from 50 years ago.

In place of international renowned soprano Pierette Alaire, today there is opera star Tracy Dahl.

In place of Massey and Laurent are former Supreme Court justice Marshall Rothstein, former Liberal heritage minister Liza Frulla and the country’s top bureaucrat, Wayne Wouters.

Street nurse Catherine Crowe, Me to We founder Roxanne Joyal and Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, are being honoured, much as social advocates were in the first list released in 1967.

And in place of David Bauer — instrumental in Canada’s national hockey program — and Montreal Canadiens great Maurice Richard, there is Messier, the ex-Edmonton Oiler forward with the quintessentially Canadian nickname, “Moose.”

“I’ve always felt being a Canadian really meant something to me, and being able to represent Canada in the international competitions like I did was something that I’ll never forget,” Messier said in an interview.

“This takes it to another level where it goes beyond the game of hockey, because (of what) the players that have been elected to this honour have done outside the game of hockey as well, which I think was a huge responsibility for all us and one not to be taken lightly.”

“Humbling” is how recipients describe being named to the order. Just ask Alan Doyle, best known as the former lead singer of Newfoundland and Labrador folk-rock stalwarts Great Big Sea.

“If you look into the list of people who get this award, are all exceptional people in their own work life and in their own artistic life or political life or business life or whatever, but then they’re almost always very com

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