Presentation of the Decorations for Bravery
Rideau Hall, Friday, February 24, 2012
It is a privilege to welcome you to Rideau Hall today, and to recognize your remarkable acts of bravery.
Let me begin with a story of courage that took place not far from here, many years ago.
The incident occurred at a skating party on the Ottawa River in the winter of 1901. Back then, it was common for people to skate along the frozen river—but on this occasion, two skaters strayed onto thin ice and plunged into the freezing water.
One of them managed to make it to safety, but the other, a young Miss Blair, was unable to pull herself free. A young man named Bert Harper tried to save her, brushing off warnings not to risk his own life in the river with the cry: “What else can I do?”
Moments later, both he and Miss Blair were pulled under by the current.
“What else can I do?” he asked, but of course we know he could have done otherwise. He could have chosen to do nothing. It seems to me that Bert Harper’s last words are a perfect expression of that which flashes through the mind before an act of bravery.
Perhaps each of you asked yourself the same question, consciously or not. Or perhaps there wasn’t time enough for that.
Whatever the case, you set aside your instinct for self-preservation. You were compelled to act, and your actions speak loudly about your character and resolve in the face of danger.
Your bravery is an extraordinary expression of strength, selflessness and courage. Your instinct to help others trumped all else, and that is why we honour you today.
As governor general, I have been inviting Canadians to imagine ways to build a smarter, more caring nation. We have a long history of helping each other in this country, and we must build on this tradition and deepen our consideration and concern for others.
Together, your actions provide us with a remarkable example of caring, one that speaks to our capacity as human beings to rise above narrow self-interest.
I am inspired by your acts of bravery and heroism, and by the impact you have had on the lives and families of those you helped. You remind us that, above all, we make the world a better place by what we do for others.
In Canada, we place great value on helping each other. For a symbol of this, we can look to the Galahad statue erected in 1905 outside the front gates of Parliament Hill, in honour of Bert Harper’s bravery.
It is a fitting tribute to a selfless act, and these decorations for bravery are likewise a symbol of our respect and gratitude for your tremendous courage.
Each of you has truly answered the call to service.
On behalf of all Canadians, thank you.