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Published by Dundurn Press (2005) $60.00
Hard cover, 408 pages, 518 full colour photos and illustrations
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Each award in the modern Canadian honours system is examined in detail, including historical background, design, and criteria for bestowal. With special chapters on heraldry, protocol, and the proper mounting and wear of medals, it is an essential reference for anyone interested in Canadian honours.
Foreword by Former Chief of the Defence Staff, Canadian Forces
Canada did not adopt its own honours system until 1972, one hundred and five years after Confederation, and it might be said that doing so was but one of a series of steps—including the 1917 battle of Vimy Ridge, the 1931 Statute of Westminster, the delayed 1939 declaration of war, the 1965 Maple Leaf flag, and the 1982 repatriation of the Constitution—that changed Canada’s colonial and Dominion status to one of independent nationhood.
Very little has been written about Canada’s honours system to date—unsurprising perhaps, given its short period of existence. Christopher McCreery’s detailed and carefully researched book is a welcome addition to the very few existing publications on the subject—including his own book on the Order of Canada. In The Canadian Honours System, McCreery traces the development of the Canadian model, from the early dependence on French and subsequently British honours to today’s comprehensive system of orders, decorations and medals. He links the controversy surrounding the on-again, off-again Canadian acceptance of British titles, through the prime ministerial tenures of Sir John A. Macdonald (in favour), Sir Robert Borden (not in favour), R.B. Bennett (in favour) and Mackenzie King (not in favour—although he was the most decorated Canadian prime minister in history), to the recent refusal by prime minister Jean Chrétien to allow a Canadian with dual citizenship to accept a British peerage.
Not only does McCreery give detailed accounts of the history and development of each of the distinctive orders, decorations and medals that are now part of Canada’s honours system, including the precedence of each and the procedures for wearing and caring for their insignia, but he also recounts the history of the proposals that were not approved and the reasons why. He also points out the dangers of introducing too many honours too quickly, and he notes that in France the many different honours for individual departments of government that were created over the years eventually had to be cancelled and replaced by a single National Order of Merit—a lesson for Canada, perhaps, where in addition to national honours, each province now has its own provincial order and where some have started to introduce medals of service.
This book is an important and comprehensive account that should be of interest to all Canadians, as well as a valuable addition to Canadian historical literature. On a subject that is still developing, it will surely need updating from time to time. But for now, the fact that it is both authoritatively and entertainingly written should ensure that it has a wide readership.
General John de Chastelain, O.C., C.M.M., C.D., C.H.