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Creation of the Polar Medal

June 23, 2015

Governor General Announces the
Creation of the Polar Medal

OTTAWA—His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, is pleased to announce that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has approved the creation of the Polar Medal. This new medal will celebrate Canada’s Northern heritage and give recognition to persons who render extraordinary services in the polar regions and Canada’s North.

“Canada is a northern nation, and the North is integral to our identity and our sovereignty,” said the Governor General. “The creation of the Polar Medal emphasizes the importance that our country places on strengthening our understanding of and connection to the North. Recognizing the outstanding contributions made by those working and living there, which is not without challenges and risks, will make our Canadian Honours System more comprehensive and better able to celebrate the full breadth of Canadian achievement.”

As an official honour created by the Crown, the Polar Medal will be part of the Canadian Honours System. The program will incorporate and replace the Governor General’s Northern Medal.

The new medal will elevate the way we recognize individuals who contribute to Northern communities and to our understanding of Northern Canada and its people. It will also highlight their achievements in polar exploration and scientific discoveries. The Governor General will preside over an inaugural presentation ceremony at a later date.

Fact sheets on the Polar Medal and the creation of new Canadian honours are attached. For more information, visit    


For a high resolution artistic rendering of the Polar Medal, please click here

Media information:

Marie-Pierre Bélanger
Rideau Hall Press Office

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The Polar Medal will celebrate Canada’s Northern heritage and recognize persons who render extraordinary services in the polar regions and Canada’s North.

As an official honour created by the Crown, the Polar Medal will be part of the Canadian Honours System. The program will incorporate and replace the Governor General’s Northern Medal, created in 2005 by then-Governor General the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson.

The Chancellery of Honours, part of the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General, will administer the Polar Medal program.

Eligibility criteria and nomination process

The Polar Medal will recognize those who have contributed to or endeavoured to promote a greater understanding of Canada’s Northern communities and its people.

It will also honour those individuals who have withstood the rigours of the polar climate to make significant contributions to polar exploration and knowledge, scientific research, and the securement of Canada’s Northern sovereignty.

Any person or group will be able to submit a nomination of a person who is eligible to be awarded the Polar Medal. Submissions will be accepted throughout the year. Nominations will be received by the Chancellery of Honours and reviewed by an advisory committee, which will make recommendations to the governor general. The call for nominations will start fall 2015.

Description of the medal

The Polar Medal consists of a silver octagonal medal that is 36 mm in diameter with a suspension bar adorned with a representation of the North Star, with limbs evoking strong winds, water currents and the aurora borealis.

The obverse depicts a contemporary effigy of the Sovereign, circumscribed with the inscription in capital letters of the Canadian Royal Title and the word “CANADA”, separated by two maple leaves. The edge of the obverse is decorated with small denticles. The reverse bears a representation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police schooner St. Roch depicted in the Arctic near a tall iceberg and two crew members standing on the ice. The medal is suspended from a watered white ribbon that is 32 mm in width.

Each subsequent award of the Medal to the same person will be indicated by a bar, which will be in silver with raised edges and bear a centred silver maple leaf.

The design of the Polar Medal was created by the Canadian Heraldic Authority, as part of the Chancellery of Honours, based on a concept by Major Carl Gauthier of the Directorate of Honours and Recognition section of the Department of National Defence. The medal will be manufactured by the Royal Canadian Mint at their Ottawa facility.



The Canadian Honours System was instituted in 1967, with the creation of the Order of Canada. Canadian honours recognize significant achievement, bravery and exceptional service to Canada or to humanity at large. Their creation follows a legal approval process, which may take several months, and which concludes with the approval of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, as the Sovereign of Canada.

Who is involved in the creation of a new honour?

  • The Sovereign of Canada is the authority for the creation of all official honours. Honours are created by letters patent issued by the Sovereign on the advice of the prime minister of Canada.
  • The Chancellery of Honours, as part of the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General, is responsible for administering the Canadian Honours System on behalf of the governor general, and provides support to the Honours Policy Committee.
  • The Honours Policy Committee, chaired by the Privy Council Office, is made up of a group of senior public servants from various government departments who assist in the administration of Canadian honours.
  • The prime minister is responsible for the Canadian Honours System. In 1980, the Canadian Honours Policy Committee was created in order to provide the prime minister with advice and assistance on the exercise of prerogatives with respect to honours and awards in Canada.
  • Proposals for new honours can originate from different sources: officials in various federal and provincial departments, individuals in established organizations that serve the public, and private citizens.

What is the process behind the creation of a new honour?

  • Proposals are sent to the Chancellery of Honours for review and to ensure that the new honour is compatible with the national honours policy and that it does not duplicate any existing honours.
  • The proposal is presented for discussion and approval by the Honours Policy Committee.
  • The Chancellery drafts the regulations, in consultation with the interested parties, and prepares the letters patent for signature by the Sovereign.
  • The Chancellery also develops the design of the new insignia.
  • If approved by the committee, the creation of a new honour is recommended to the prime minister via the order-in-council process through the Privy Council Office.
  • On the recommendation of the prime minister via the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General, the letters patent and design paintings are sent to Buckingham Palace for approval by Her Majesty The Queen. When the letters patent are signed, the honour in considered officially created.
  • The Office of the Registrar General of Canada affixes the Great Seal of Canada to the signed letters patent.
  • The new honour is announced in a news release by the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General and the information is published in the Canada Gazette.