Six Manitobans have been appointed members of the Order of Canada ahead of the country’s sesquicentennial.
They include trucking magnate Paul Albrechtsen, health care professional Judith G. Bartlett, opera singer Tracy Dahl, professor and writer Lise Gaboury-Diallo, writer and critic Meeka Walsh, and William Earl Stafford, the former music director of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Earlier in June, Manitoba entrepreneur and philanthropist William Loewen was honoured with a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for his contributions to the local arts scene, notably the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
In total, Gov. Gen. David Johnston made 99 new appointments Friday, including 77 members, 19 officers and three companions to the order. Being appointed is one of Canada’s highest civilian honours.
"I am delighted to recognize these new recipients of the Order of Canada on the eve of the 150th anniversary of Confederation," Gov. Gen. Johnston said in a statement.
In 1967, the Order of Canada was given for the first time, so this group’s appointment coincides with the distinction’s 50th anniversary. Nearly 7,000 other Canadians have been invested into the order during its history.
The Manitoban appointees have made extensive contributions to the local and national communities in art, business, health care and education, and will be presented with their insignia at Rideau Hall in Ottawa at a later date.
Bartlett, a now-retired physician and former associate professor at the University of Manitoba’s Rady College of Medicine, was not expecting the honour.
"I was totally silent (after they told me)," Bartlett laughed. "Am I hearing this right? It was quite stunning."
While Bartlett was stunned, Walsh, the editor of Winnipeg-based arts and culture magazine Border Crossings, experienced just about every other feeling.
"I was a little bit incredulous, followed by overwhelmed, along with honoured and delighted," she said. "I’ve been terrifically fortunate to work in an area that I do love."
Albrechtsen came to Winnipeg from Denmark in the 1950s and went on to form a transportation and trucking empire. For decades, he’s been a leading philanthropist in the city, donating $7 million to fund the construction of the new Reh-Fit Centre and $5 million toward the advancement of cardiac research at St. Boniface Hospital.
After training and performing in Toronto, New York, Paris and Bulgaria, Stafford became the music director and principal conductor of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in 1984. He occupied that role until 2009, and has since remained an active member of the Canadian music community.
Dahl is a globally renowned opera singer, known as Canada’s premiere coloratura soprano. She’s performed with the Manitoba Opera, the Metropolitan Opera and the San Francisco Opera, among several others. Dahl has also been a vocal teacher and mentor for young singers in Manitoba, and has sung all around the world.
"It feels like my career has been a lifelong degree and this is the highest prize I can imagine ever receiving," Dahl said.
Gaboury-Diallo is a professor of French and French literature at the Collège Universitaire de Saint-Boniface. She’s written four collections of poetry, and her collection Homestead, poèmes du couers de l’Ouest won the first prize in French poetry at the 2004 CBC Literary Awards.
The list of Canadians appointed as officers of the Order of Canada includes hockey player Mark Messier, actor-comedian Mike Myers, actress Catherine O’Hara, soccer star Christine Sinclair, director Jean-Marc Vallée and keeper-of-knowledge Alex Trebek.
Gabourey-Diallo is humbled and honoured to be included among the appointees this year, but she acknowledged a need for reconciliation with indigenous people in Canada.
"I am aware that Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation and the 50th anniversary of the Order of Canada coincide this year, and I believe both are milestones we should be proud of and celebrate. However, I also hope that in the near future, we will achieve a true and lasting reconciliation with all First Nations peoples," Gaboury-Diallo wrote in an email to the Free Press.
Though some appointees are more well-known than others, Walsh knows they’re all being honoured for the same reason.
"The sense is what the recipients have done has made a difference," Walsh said. "It’s an incredibly gratifying feeling."
Former Puisne Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Marshall Rothstein, who was born in Winnipeg, received the Companion of the Order of Canada.