Presentation of the Governor General’s History Awards
Rideau Hall, Monday, November 3, 2014
It gives my wife, Sharon, and I great pleasure to welcome all of you to Rideau Hall.
You are being honoured today in this historical place for your dedication to Canadian history. Some of you have instilled a love of learning in your students. Others have showcased or told Canada’s history in a unique and exciting way. Yet others are young Canadians who are still discovering interesting facets of our country’s past.
What you all share is an eagerness to know more, and a curiosity that drives you to explore this land and its people through time, stretching back hundreds upon thousands of years. You are all historians in one way or another.
And it is exciting work, as we are still uncovering our history—occasionally quite literally.
Last year, for example, palaeontologists announced the discovery of a new species of dinosaur, in what is now southern Alberta. At 85 million years old, Acrotholus audeti is thought to be the oldest dinosaur to have lived in North America, and possibly the world.
This discovery tells scientists much about the land in which we live, and the evolution of dinosaurs in that era.
In fact, it is findings like these that precipitate a rethinking of long-held beliefs, and the practical application of research and knowledge that leads to an advancement of theories.
In other words, knowing and understanding our history directly influences matters of science, as well as our ideas of what it means to live on this land and to be Canadian. Studying and researching history can sometimes mean reimagining our past.
That is the power of history.
All of you being recognized here have made contributions to the field in one way or another. Even today’s youngest laureates have risen to the challenge, learning about Canada and sharing that knowledge with their peers.
Because you are retelling and teaching our history to others, you assume a responsibility to do so reliably. History is too often and too easily twisted and turned to suit the needs of the age in which we live. We must not be afraid to revise our past in the light of new information, but we must be careful not to do so wantonly.
It is a thin line to walk, but you do so with confidence, and you are being honoured here today because of it.
You are storytellers who paint a picture of a bygone Canada, but let us not forget that your actions resonate in the present day and will continue to do so well into the future. You are steering the course of young people’s lives, and shaping how we perceive historical events and react to them.
After all, we cannot see where we are going unless we know where we have been.
You are now a part of the history of the Governor General’s History Awards, joining the ranks of those who are similarly committed to retelling the story of Canada, its land and its people.
I know that you will continue to engage with your community, classes or friends and to raise awareness of our fascinating and unique past.
Just as those newly discovered fossils have changed our understanding of life in Canada 85 million years ago, so too are you changing our course, by introducing generations of Canadians to the wonders of history.
Congratulations on this well-deserved honour.