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TOWARDS THREE LEVELS; Companion, Officer, Member

How the Order of Canada came to adopt a three-leveled structure – as originally intended by Pearson, relates directly to the impractical Medal of Service and equally impractical Medal of Courage. No awards of the Medal of Courage had been made, so it did not pose an immediate problem, but the Medal of Service was quite another issue. It was regarded by many as a second prize to the Companion level, and this was not only because more Medals of Service were awarded than Companions, but also because the design of the insignia implied inferiority.

The Companion’s insignia was quite beautiful in gold and enamel, while the Medal of Service claimed a rather plain and smaller insignia. There was the additional problem that the Medal of Service was intended to recognize important national service, yet there was a desperate need for an award to recognize outstanding local service of a significant nature. By 1968 the Advisory Council of the Order of Canada had decided that the Order should be restructured into three levels: Companion, Officer and Member — the same arrangement that Pearson had proposed to Cabinet in 1966, when it was deemed unacceptable. This time, however, there was little difficulty in securing acceptance. Those who received the Medal of Service were permitted to exchange their SM for an Officer’s insignia, and the Medal of Service was cancelled.


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Compaion of the Order of Canada; Order of Canada; canada honours; garrard jewellers

Companion of the Order of Canada insignia, c. 1972 

Officer of the Order of Canada insignia, c. 1972 

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Member of the Order of Canada insignia, c. 1972 


The restructured Order of Canada came into being in 1972. Simultaneous with the changes made to the Order of Canada in 1972 came the establishment of the Order of Military Merit and the Canadian Decorations for Bravery. Since 1972 there have been few structural changes to the Order of Canada, aside from enlargements and alteration to the mechanism through which honorary members are appointed. 

The Order of Canada initially consisted of two divisions; a “general division” for Canadian citizens and an “honorary division” which non-Canadians could be appointed to. In 2013 a new division of the Order was added, that of “extraordinary membership,” which provides a separate category for members of the Royal Family and the Governors General and his/her spouse to be appointed, rectifying a long standing administrative problem with the Order’s structure. Unlike many other countries, however, Canada does not engage in the diplomatic game of exchanging honours as gifts. 

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Ribbon chart for the restructured Canadian Honours System, c. 1972. 

Appointments to the Order of Canada are made by the Governor General on behalf of the Queen. The Governor General receives the honours list from the Order’s Advisory Council, which is chaired by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and which includes the secretary to the Governor General (who is also secretary general of the Order), the deputy minister of Canadian Heritage, the clerk of the Privy Council, the president of the Royal Society of Canada, the president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, a representative from the protective services, scientific (non-medical) member, a charity/religious representative and up to five other members representing the regions: Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, Prairies and West. Nominations are received from the general public, and the entire process is insulated from political influence.



Order of Canada Booklet c. 1991. Click on the cover to view the interior.

One of the most notable people appointed to the Order of Canada during the Order’s first 15 years was Terry Fox. Fox became the youngest Companion of the Order of Canada in 1980. You can view a news clip of Fox being invested with the Order by then Governor General Ed Schreyer in Port Colquitlin on 18 September 1980.

Order of Canada; Terry Fox

Terry Fox, CC.

Youngest Companion appointed to the Order. 

Canada Gazette; Order of Canada; Terry Fox; Esmond Butler; Order of Canada


The more recent history of the Order of Canada, including the establishment of the Chancellery of Canadian Honours and the Canadian Heraldic Authority are covered in depth in “The Order of Canada: Genesis of an Honours System.” 

Order of Canada; Joyce Bryant; Joyce Turpin; Bruce Beatty; Esmond Butler; Secretary General Order of Canada

Tenth anniversary party for the Order of Canada held by members of the Order of Canada honours secretariat (what is today the Chancellery of Honours). In the foreground at the cake (l-r) Joyce Bryant, CM, BEM, first employee of the Order, Esmond Butler, CVO, OC, first Secretary General of the Order, Bruce Beatty, CM, SOM, CD, designer of the Order of Canada. 

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