OTTAWA – Super Mario, former prime minister Kim Campbell and Burton Cummings had them running back to Rideau Hall on Friday as Gov.-Gen. Michael Jean presided over her final Order of Canada ceremony.
Mario Lemieux, the hockey impresario who duelled Wayne Gretzky through the 1980s, and rocker Cummings of the celebrated Guess Who added star power to an investiture ceremony that honoured an astonishing array of Canadian talent.
Doctors, fiddlers, scientists, novelists, business tycoons, jazz pianists, opera stars, economists, movie producers and a passel of politicians rubbed elbows in the sweltering ball room.
Jean, in her very last honours ceremony as the Queen’s representative in Canada before she steps down next month, waxed nostalgic.
“I remember the first time I took part in this ceremony of excellence as Governor General of Canada, in November 2005,” Jean said to open the two-hour ceremony.
“I remember being greatly impressed by the range of accomplishments of so many Canadians, and telling myself how extremely and incredibly lucky this country is to be able to count on women and men of your calibre.”
It was another eclectic group Friday morning.
Filmmaker Ivan Reitman, the guy who brought the movie “Animal House” to life, shared billing with Max Cynader, a biomedical pioneer at the University of British Columbia who’s excelled in neurological function and brain disorders.
Ben Heppner, a world-renowned operatic tenor, was preceded to the podium by New Brunswick’s Matilda Murdoch, the octogenarian known as the “Queen of the Down East Fiddle.”
Former provincial premiers John Hamm and Gary Filmon joined ranks with Campbell, Canada’s first female prime minister, to lead an impressive field of political honourees.
And novelists Sandra Birdsell of Regina and Jack Hodgins of Victoria joined actress Tantoo Cardinal, whose roles in Dances with Wolves, North of 60 and other productions “have helped blaze a trail in an industry where few aboriginal women previously existed.”
Jean paid tribute to them all.
“In sport and in business, on the page and on the stage, in laboratories and as part of research teams, in music and on the air, at the drawing board and at our most prestigious institutions, in the most specialized sciences and in health care, and at the ice rink,”—here the crowd laughed and all eyes turned to a blushing Lemieux—”and the head of governments, you remind us that nothing is impossible for those who are not afraid to push boundaries and borders.”
Lemieux and Cummings declined interview requests after the ceremony, but wheelchair athlete Chantal Petitclerc of Montreal spoke eloquently for all.
She said her 21 Paralympic Games medals and four world records had a very different feel than Friday’s Order of Canada investiture.
“It has a meaning that is so much wider and so much broader,” she said.
“I feel very humble to be here today among all these people who really have made a difference in all the different spheres of expertise they practice.”