Presentation of the Governor General’s History Awards
Rideau Hall, Monday, November 28, 2016
I’d like to start by acknowledging that this gathering is taking place on the traditional territory of the Algonquin peoples.
Welcome, everyone, to Rideau Hall for this presentation of the Governor General’s History Awards!
And what a perfect place to hold this ceremony, given that history can be found all around us on these grounds and in this residence. History happens here almost every day, including in this ballroom!
So many Canadians have passed through these doors. Presidents and prime ministers. Scientists and artists. Canadians from every corner of our country who have done extraordinary things.
And now you’re part of that history.
Of course, history happens everywhere in Canada!
We were reminded of this recently in a wonderful new work of history that we’re honouring later this week at Rideau Hall. The book, by Bill Waiser, is called A World We Have Lost: Saskatchewan Before 1905, and it was recently named the winner of this year’s Governor General’s Literary Award in English non-fiction.
In it, he tracks the first encounters of Henry Kelsey, a representative of the Hudson’s Bay Company, with the First Nations communities in what would become part of western Canada.
He quickly realized how instrumental First Nations people would be to the success of his mission.
He would come to understand, Mr. Waiser writes, that “Their prairies were not an empty wilderness but alive with history and the experiences of generations. Written in the land were the stories of their lives.”
Everywhere we turn, there are stories and history. And those stories and history need to be told and understood.
That’s where you shine. All of you have kept our past alive and vibrant.
You are teachers, students, researchers, curators and historians. You use all the tools at hand to bring history to a new audience, and to show how we lived and the diverse contexts in which we lived.
You’ve helped connect students with their families’ history and with the history of our communities. You’ve combined disciplines to let people see history through a new lens. And we are more empathetic of others thanks to your efforts to bring people together through our past.
As historians and storytellers, you play an essential role in our society. You help us understand who we are as a people, where we’ve come from, where we’ve made mistakes and where we’ve succeeded.
You’ve spent tireless hours researching, analyzing, interviewing, digging and travelling across the country. All with the single goal of bringing our history to life.
And there’s still so much we have to learn.
Next year, we will mark a historic anniversary—the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
I hope that part of 2017 will be learning about and drawing lessons from our past, which has so much to teach us about the future.
You don’t need me to tell you that Canada has such a rich and exciting history. But that’s the message we should deliver far and wide during our sesquicentennial!
History needs to be taught with passion and wisdom. We need people like you to hold the torch high, to light your candles and the candles of others.
In this way, we will make sure that our shared history is never forgotten. And that we never have to lament a world we have lost.
I thank you for telling our stories and for promoting our history as your gift for Canada’s 150th birthday.
Congratulations on receiving this honour.