The Order of Canada is, to say the least, a prestigious award. It is one of our country’s highest civilian honours. It was established in 1967, Canada’s centennial year, to recognize outstanding achievement, dedication to the community, and service to the nation.
On November 21, 2013 the Order of Canada was awarded to a member of Crime Writers of Canada, Louise Penny, who attended her formal Investiture on February 17, 2017. The original citation reads as follows:
“For her contributions to Canadian culture as an author shining a spotlight on the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Louise Penny has captured the imaginations of readers in Canada and around the world. Following an 18-year career as a journalist and host with the CBC, she turned to her passion of writing. Her bestselling mysteries, set in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, have garnered international acclaim and have given readers a sense of this region’s unique culture. A generous mentor, she fosters the development of her fellow writers and established the Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Novel, an award for aspiring authors.”
We asked Louise to share her impressions of this momentous occasion with us, and are delighted she has done so. Louise writes:
I was amazed. It was amazing.
It had actually been given to me a few years ago, but I didn’t feel I could go to the investiture while Michael was alive. I could not leave him behind.
He, along with my friend Shelagh Rogers, worked secretly on the application, and fortunately, when the Governor General’s office called with the news, Michael was still able to understand, and to celebrate. But, by the time I was invited to the investiture, he’d drifted too far away.
So I waited until he’d gone. And then he could go. And he did. In a fun little enameled box. He was with me the whole time.
Shelagh came from Gabriola Island in BC, to be my “date”. My brother Rob and his wife Audi came from Edmonton. My Assistant Lise and her husband Del were there too.
Now, since Shelagh was my main guest, we were told to show up at Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s residence, early. But – once there – we were told that I’d have to go in without her.
She was my security blanket. A great friend, who herself is an Officer of the Order of Canada (one up from my status) and she knows everyone. I was planning to lean on, if not cling to, her.
Then I find myself alone. Well, with the other 40 people getting the Order of Canada…but without the walking Atavan that is a friend.
We were shepherded into this splendid room at Rideau Hall, and an aide-de-camp walked us through what would happen.
We’d process in, behind the Governor General and his wife. Our seats were well marked. When our turn came, our name would be announced. We were told to get up and walk down the long aisle to where His Excellency was sitting at the front.
We were told to stop. Nod to him. Then step to his right, turn. Face the audience. The citation would be read out and at the end, they would repeat my name, so I’d know that part was over. Then I needed to step back in front of the GG, he’d get up, pin the Order of Canada on me, then we’d both turn, face the camera, then I’d walk back across the stage to sign the book.
Everyone clear? The aide-de-camp asked.
The truth was, he’d lost me at, ‘Everyone listening?…’
It was incredibly moving, listening to the citations. The motto for the Order of Canada is, ‘They Desire a Better Country’, and that is certainly true of everyone there. Their accomplishments, their passion, their selflessness was breath-taking and inspiring.
Then it was my turn. My hands were freezing, my knees shaking, my mind a blank.
I got up and started down the long, long, longer still aisle. And at the end the GG sat. Smiling. Encouraging. I focussed completely on him. And tried to remember, please God remember, what to do.
So far, none of the other celebrants had peed or passed out, and I did not want to be the first.
I made it through. To be honest, I tried not to think of Michael, because I didn’t want to be standing there in front of hundreds of people, crying. Though I did cry that morning when Shelagh came by my hotel room with a book she and her husband had made. Of the emails that passed between Michael and her. She called him 007, and he called her Mata Hari.
Afterward, I hugged my purse, with him in it, to me. And took him, of course, to the gala that night. Cocktail dress in place of the long gown.
What a time.
This article first appeared in the March edition of Crime Time, the newsletter for members of Crime Writers of Canada (CWC) and is reproduced here with the permission of both the author and CWC.