Gov. Gen. Mary Simon has announced 99 new Order of Canada appointments, recognizing people from a range of backgrounds for their contributions to the country.
The Governor General makes the appointments based on recommendations from the Advisory Council for the Order of Canada.
"What a beautiful way to end the year, honouring Order of Canada appointees and learning about the depth and range of their accomplishments," Simon said in a news release. "Their commitment to the betterment of Canada fills me with pride and hope for the future."
Among the appointees are hockey player Sidney Crosby and actor and comedian Eugene Levy.
Crosby, a forward for the Pittsburgh Penguins, has been appointed an officer of the Order of Canada. The 35-year-old from Cole Harbour, N.S., has 1,452 career NHL points, which puts him at 17th in the league all-time.
According to Rideau Hall, Crosby earned the appointment "for being one of the greatest hockey players of all time and for supporting community service initiatives for youth."
Levy received a promotion to companion of the Order of Canada, which is the highest rank.
The 76-year-old Hamiltonian is known for his roles on the sketch comedy show SCTV, dozens of comedy films and more recently for co-creating and starring in the television series Schitt's Creek. He was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 2011.
Levy was promoted "for elevating the stature of Canadian television on the international stage as an acclaimed actor and producer."
Former CBC foreign correspondent Brian Stewart was named an officer of the Order of Canada for his in-depth analysis of world events.
During his career, including over two decades at the CBC, Stewart reported on the devastating Ethiopian famine of the mid-1980s. He also covered many conflicts and reported from 10 war zones, from El Salvador and Beirut to Afghanistan.
Raymond Saint-Pierre, one of Radio-Canada's best-known foreign correspondents, was appointed a member of the Order of Canada. He reported from Washington, London, Paris, Beijing and Moscow during his career.
Other appointees include astronaut David Saint-Jacques, lawyer and former Canada Radio-telecommunications Commission (CRTC) chair Konrad von Finckenstein, retired judge and lawyer Harry S. LaForme, and retired professional soccer goalkeeper and Olympian Karina LeBlanc.
Businessman John Louis Bragg of Springhill, N.S., also received a promotion to companion of the Order of Canada, receiving the honour "For his exceptional contributions to the prosperity and well-being of Atlantic Canadians and for his legendary commitment to the development of rural communities."
Appointment represents 'country saying thank you'
LaForme has been the recipient of many honours. The 76-year-old from the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation in southern Ontario has five honorary doctorates and was the first Indigenous person in Canadian history to sit on an appeal court.
But he said his appointment as an officer of the Order of Canada has a special significance.
"This is the first one that represents the country saying thank you … that's how I look at it," LaForme said in an interview.
After graduating from law school in 1977, LaForme joined a corporate law firm, but quickly realized his passions lay elsewhere, specifically in representing Indigenous people and fighting for Indigenous rights.
LaForme went on to chair two royal commissions on Indigenous issues, and in 2004 made history as the first Indigenous person in Canada to be appointed to an appellate court — the Ontario Court of Appeal.
Irwin Cotler, the minister of justice at the time, called LaForme about the decision. LaForme said he'll never forget Cotler's words.
"I asked him, I said 'Why? Why did you pick me to go to the court?' And he said, 'Well, who better to know what justice is than somebody who has lived with injustice?' " LaForme said.
"That resonated with me."
LaForme served on the court for 14 years before retiring and said his proudest moment is when he stood up for LGBTQ marriage rights on a 2002 Ontario Divisional Court panel.
"That was a beautiful case and I was able to use my Indigenous background and my belief system in answering those questions that were given by the lawyers, and asked by the lawyers," he said.
"Equal marriage to me made complete sense when I thought about it in terms of what I'd gone through in my life."
'We are the leaders'
Professional soccer goalkeeper and Olympian Karina LeBlanc said being named a member of the Order of Canada is a special achievement.
"It's truly an honour because I think we live in the best country in the world," she said in an interview.
"I think we are the leaders in this world and to be able to be amongst that class of phenomenal human beings is truly special."
LeBlanc, 42, immigrated to Canada with her family from Dominica in 1988. She credits the decision to come to Canada for her professional success.
"I think my life story is only possible because I moved to Canada," LeBlanc said.
Growing up in Maple Ridge, B.C., LeBlanc faced bullying, partly because of her thick accent. She also didn't make the under 15 B.C. team. But she didn't let those things deter her dream of representing Canada and becoming an Olympian. She was named to Canada's Olympic team for the 2008 Olympics, and later won a bronze medal with the Olympic squad in 2012.
LeBlanc retired from professional soccer in 2015, and is now the general manager of Portland Thorns FC of the National Women's Soccer League.
But LeBlanc said her biggest life accomplishment is becoming a mother. "I want to be my daughter's hero every single day."
Power of perseverance
LeBlanc and Crosby aren't the only athletes appointed — curler and CBC broadcaster Colleen Jones of Halifax has also joined the ranks of the order as a member.
Jones said she's pleased to be honoured for contributing to a sport that didn't always get national recognition.
"When I first won a Canadian championship in '82, people would say, 'And how do you curl?' " Jones said in an interview. "Now it's a real powerhouse sport that's got a real presence across the country."
Jones said that though she's had some difficult losses over her career, they taught her an important lesson about perseverance — something she hopes to pass on to her children.
"I wanted to show them that, no matter how tough the loss, I was going to handle that with grace," Jones said. "I wanted to, in a way, teach them the lesson that you don't just give up because you lose, that you kind of power on."
'Quite surprised in a beautiful way'
Eli Rubenstein, a Holocaust and anti-hate educator who is also the religious leader Congregation Habonim Toronto synagogue, said he was surprised to be appointed. He cited a Hebrew proverb which states, "the reward of a good deed is the deed itself."
"That's the motivation, and I was not looking, searching or expecting any kind of accolades or reward for this," he said in an interview. "And so I was completely taken aback by shock, not completely feeling I was deserving of it."
Rubenstein is the national director of the March of the Living Canada, a program that teaches students about the history of the Holocaust to combat hatred and intolerance.
Rubenstein said throughout his career he's been inspired by Holocaust survivors who've shared their stories, and the students who listen and learn from those stories.
"I was so amazed by [the survivors'] resilience, by their courage, by their eloquence and most importantly by their lack of cynicism," he said. "It's the hope in the survivors' eyes when they tell their stories to the students."
Rubenstein says the appointment also came with an important lesson.
"Sometimes you toil midnight hours, and burn the candle at both ends, and you don't realize the people around you, how much they appreciate what you're doing," he said.
"Sometimes people just need that extra encouragement, because I was so appreciative … and quite surprised in a beautiful way."
The Order of Canada
Gov. Gen. Mary Simon has appointed the following people, who were recommended for appointment by the Advisory Council of the Order of Canada:
Companions of the Order of Canada
John Louis Bragg (This is a promotion within the order)
Eugene Levy (This is a promotion within the order)
Officers of the Order of Canada
Laurence A. Gray
Budd Lionel Hall
Harry S. LaForme
Pierre Lassonde (This is a promotion within the order)
Gerald and Joan Lozinski
Gerald M. Morin
Members of the Order of Canada
John J. M. Bergeron
André H. Caron
Carolyn R. Freeman
Martin F. Katz
Gary S. Segal
Lorraine P. Segato
Mac Van Wielingen
Konrad von Finckenstein
Richard D. Weisel