Governor General’s Awards for Excellence in Teaching Canadian History
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Rideau Hall, Friday, November 19, 2010
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to Rideau Hall, a most appropriate venue for honouring some of the best history teachers in Canada.
Gabrielle Léger once said: “The most ephemeral thing at Rideau Hall is the governor general; all the rest is history.”
And she was right—history is ever-present in this house. Every government since Confederation has been sworn in here, and—as the portraits lining the walls of the Tent Room remind us—the office of governor predates Canada itself.
None of this is news to you, of course, our most innovative teachers of Canadian history. We are in your debt, because studying the past is the key to understanding the present and navigating the future.
In my installation speech, I emphasized how critically important education is to our vision of Canada as a smart and caring nation.
We dream of a nation where all Canadians can develop their talents to their fullest potential, where our children and grandchildren enjoy an improved quality of life.
A solid understanding of this country’s remarkable history is essential to the future we dream of. And for this, we need our teachers.
I have always greatly admired the educators of this country. Anyone who has achieved any degree of success in their lives can point to the many teachers, mentors and coaches who helped make them better people along the way.
We must cherish our teachers, as they have taken it upon themselves to inspire, encourage and challenge our children and youth. In this way, Canada is enriched by every new generation of citizens and critical thinkers.
Today, we pay tribute to our history teachers, and celebrate the exceptional work being done in both popular history and academic research. It is also a pleasure to honour a number of talented, hard-working young people, each of whom loves history.
Canadians, like all peoples, are the product of their history. Our centuries-long experiment in peace, tolerance and inclusiveness continues to be of great relevance.
As my predecessor Roméo LeBlanc said: “Very few of us in this country share the same past, but all of us share the same future.”
The past shapes us in countless ways: influencing our values; guiding our understanding of events; fuelling our hopes and our fears. To borrow a theme from historian Margaret MacMillan, history is often used and abused, and realizing this is to grasp something of the power of the past.
The world in which we live is often turbulent. As an educator, I would ask my students to consider the historical perspective behind any event. The past can provide clues to the present; it helps us make sense of events and reminds us that the times in which we live are nothing if not complex.
Our best teachers know that history must be read with the heart as well as with the mind. They understand that the study of the past is not a science, and that history always bears the imprint of human culture.
For thousands of years, the Aboriginal peoples of this land relied on oral histories to share their traditions and cultures. They knew the importance of transmitting the past to their children as a means of guiding them in the future. The magnificent stone inukshuk standing near the front gate of Rideau Hall is a physical reminder of this.
Samuel de Champlain, the first governor of what we now call Canada, dreamed of a new order based on shared respect for differing histories, cultures, languages and faiths. I believe his vision is just as relevant today as it was 400 years ago.
We have gathered here to pay tribute to the hard work and creativity you have shown in bringing the past to life for our children and youth. You are passionate, you have tremendous imagination, and you enrich the study of history by interpreting and placing events within their proper context.
Donald Creighton, one of Canada’s most prolific historians, once said: “History is the record of an encounter between character and circumstances.”
On behalf of all Canadians, thank you for rising to the challenge and teaching our remarkable history to the next generation. You have answered the call to service and are helping to create a smarter, more caring Canada.