The Viceregal Lion
  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Visit to the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre

Ottawa, Ontario, Wednesday, April 26, 2017


When I became governor general, I challenged all Canadians to join me in building a smarter, more caring nation.

I have been overwhelmed by the response I’ve seen right across the country.

The Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre is a great example of the kind of caring and community spirit we want to encourage and celebrate in Canada.

Helping others and building community are such a big part of what you do here. Not just as a health centre, but also as a home for veterans who dedicated their lives to serving Canada.

I should mention that earlier this month I attended the 100th anniversary commemorations for the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Many of those who fought in the First World War were volunteers.

And in fact, I understand some of you are related to some of those veterans of the First World War. This is remarkable, and underscores the importance of remembrance.

The Vimy commemorations were profoundly moving. I was proud to pay tribute to the sacrifices of those Canadians who served at Vimy and elsewhere in that terrible war.

We are forever in their debt.

With this in mind, I would like to also thank the veterans in the room today for your great service to Canada.

We are in your debt as well, and I am very grateful for your contributions.

Today’s gathering falls within National Volunteer Week, which offers us a reminder of just how many kind and caring people there are out there.

A little later, I’m looking forward to recognizing some volunteers from your community with a special presentation of the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers.

Throughout my mandate, more than 1 500 volunteers have been presented with this recognition. We are very pleased to have been able to honour so many generous and compassionate people.

Tomorrow, we will host a conference on giving at Rideau Hall. It is my hope that this discussion will help to re-energize and even redefine giving in Canada.

I’d like to share a story with you about how even the smallest act of giving can have a profound ripple effect.

Some two decades ago, Mother Teresa came to Montréal, where we were living at the time. One of our neighbours, moved by her work with the poor in Calcutta, asked Mother Teresa how she could help. She replied: “Just look around you. In your own neighbourhood there is a family who needs your care and love.”

Shortly afterward, I read a criticism of Mother Teresa’s work. Her shelter in Calcutta gave succour to perhaps 200 people in a city where millions lived in abject poverty. Her work was described as one small drop in an ocean.

A few weeks later, I realized the shortcomings of this criticism. It was looking at her work from the point of view of physics, rather than chemistry.

I came to this realization in an unusual way. At that time, my children were aged 2 to 9, and they were unsatisfied with the entertainment I was providing at their birthday parties. They would ask me, “Why can’t you do a magic show like Dean MacFarlane instead of telling us ghost stories that no one believes?”

In those days, Andy MacFarlane was the Dean of Journalism at the University of Western Ontario, where I was the Dean of Law. Being quite competitive, I attended the next birthday party at the MacFarlane home, where Andy was dressed as a magician, with a long cape and flowing sleeves. He was performing a magic trick, turning water into wine. He took a glass of clear water, raised it in the air, and uttered that magic phrase, “Abracadabra!” He then swept the glass into his sleeves while whirling 360 degrees, surreptitiously adding a few drops of red vegetable dye into the glass, and emerged with a glass of a lovely rose-hued liquid.

At that moment, I realized that the work Mother Teresa was doing was changing the culture of Calcutta, and indeed that of the world. It was the transformation of the water—not the addition to it—that was improving the lives of so many families.

Volunteers and caregivers across Canada are involved in a similar kind of transformative work and in the best kind of nation building, one where people come first.

This centre puts people first and is rooted in practicality. You are all about caring for each other, and you’re answering a pressing need. For the first time in our history, there are more Canadians aged 65 and over than there are under 15 years of age.

I thank you all for your caring and compassion for others.

That includes the volunteers and the donors who do so much for people at this centre. Your support is invaluable and truly appreciated.  

Like learning, philanthropy and volunteerism are lifelong activities, and I encourage you all go even further in reaching out to others and building this wonderful community. Let today be the catalyst for even greater things to come.

Thank you again for all that you do.