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What Order of Canada means: ‘I feel extremely privileged’


OTTAWA — Nathalie Lambert was just a child in a poor neighbourhood in Montreal when she walked through the doors of the skating rink across the street.

She walked in by happenstance, she said.

What followed was three Olympic medals in short-track speed skating, travelling the world for international competitions, serving as chef de mission for Canada at the Vancouver Olympics, and a lifetime in sport as a coach, official, mentor and instructor.

Soon, Lambert will be walking through the doors of Rideau Hall to join more than 100 other Canadians who are being invested in the Order of Canada.

“To be quite honest, I’m perfectly happy and thrilled with what sport has brought me and this is sort of the cherry on top of the sundae,” she said in an interview.

“I feel extremely privileged to receive this honour. In my wildest dreams, this would not have happened, so for me this is a thrilling and humbling honour.”

Lambert is one of 113 Canadians whom Rideau Hall announced Thursday will be invested into the Order of Canada, one of the country’s highest civilian honours and one that recognizes Canadians who have been high achievers in their fields, or have shown dedication or service to their community and country.

The list released on the eve of Canada Day includes writers like Jacques Godbout and Robert Sawyer; editorial cartoonist Bruce MacKinnon; Michael Budman and Don Green, founders of retailer Roots Canada Ltd.; former senator Sharon Carstairs; Isabel Bassett, former CEO of TVOntario and a former Ontario cabinet minister; Marie Wilson, a commissioner with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and Dennis O’Connor, a retired judge who headed inquiries into the Maher Arar affair and the tainted-water scandal in Walkerton, Ont.

The Order of Canada was established in 1967 and has more than 6,500 members.

Lambert said even though her name will be entered into the Order of Canada, she is only there because of those around her who pushed her to be better at her sport: her teammates, her rivals, her coaches, and her late mother.

The same is true of Cassie Campbell, who captained the women’s hockey team to back-to-back Olympic gold medals.

She said she felt almost uncomfortable accepting the honour as an individual who plays in a team sport.

“I think about all my teammates when you get an award like this because it really should go to all of them and hopefully one day they all get that recognition,” Campbell said.

She said the recognition should go a long way to helping build women’s hockey at the grassroots level in Canada, which has come a long way from when she was a child.

Campbell said she didn’t grow up with a dream of playing hockey in the Olympics because at the time she didn’t think it was possible.

“You hope that the young girls hear about a female hockey player getting an honour like this and it inspires them even more.”

On the list are also a number of notable aboriginal Canadians, including artist Abraham Anghik Ruben and Graydon Nicholas, the first aboriginal to become lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick.

Nicholas grew up one of 12 children to a family on the Tobique First Nation reserve in New Brunswick. He struggled to learn English as a child, failing Grade 1 so he could have another year to work on his language skills.

Nothing in life has ever come free, if I can call it that way,” he said.

“It’s been a lot of hard work. I don’t necessarily consider myself intelligent. I work hard and I never give up, very determined — my mother used to say, you’re stubborn.

“Stubborn is not such a bad quality when you can bounce back from setbacks and learn from your mistakes.”

His mother, he said, was adamant her children would get an education and pushed him and his siblings to go to post-secondary school.

Nicholas did his undergraduate degree in science. A law degree followed. Then came 12 years with the Union of New Brunswick Indians. In 1991, he became the first aboriginal appointed to be a provincial judge in New Brunswick, then in 2009 the first to be lieutenant-governor.

“I never asked to be a judge. I never asked to be a lieutenant-governor. And I certainly did not ask for this either,” he said.

“Someone, somewhere must have seen something and thought, ‘Well, you know, let’s give this person an opportunity and a chance,’ and I’m grateful for that.”

TORONTO STAR | NEWS | CANADA