The Victoria Cross has been long regarded as the highest possible honour for bravery in combat. Until recently, the Cross was only minted in Britain and awarded to Canadians by the Queen for the most outstanding acts of bravery, exceptional acts of valour, or self-sacrifice in the presence of an enemy. On May 16, 2008, Prime Minister Harper and Her Excellency, Governor General Michaelle Jean, unveiled the new Victoria Cross that is now truly Canadian.
The Victoria Cross was first introduced in 1856. It was approved by Queen Victoria as the highest British award for gallantry and was to be awarded to officers or men who served the Crown in the presence of the enemy by performing an act of valour or devotion to their country. In 1902, it became possible to award the Victoria Cross posthumously, making it one of the very few British valour decorations available to soldiers, sailors, or air force personnel killed while performing their heroic action.
Although the modern Canadian Victoria Cross has been in existence on paper since 1992, the first one was manufactured in 2007. A great deal of thought and consideration went into the design of this highest honour. The modern Canadian decoration still maintains a close connection to the original Victoria Cross, while recognizing the coming-of-age of Canada together with its present and future.
The new Canadian Victoria Cross varies slightly from the original. The new Cross recognizes both of Canada’s official languages through the motto on the insignia that has been changed from “For Valour,” to the Latin “Pro Valore.” Another small change is the addition of the Fleur-de-lis at either end of the scroll bearing the motto, to accompany the traditional rose, thistle, and shamrock. These additions establish a link with the floral elements found in the Royal Arms of Canada. Furthermore, the new Cross will contain the original 1867 Confederation metals, as well as metal from every region in Canada.
Twenty genuine Crosses and six second award bars will be produced and deposited at the Chancellery of Honours at Rideau Hall for safekeeping. The remaining alloy produced according to the original formula will also be kept by the Chancellery of Honours, in the shape of marked ingots for the casting of future decorations. The new Cross was produced through collaboration between the Departments of National Defence, Veterans Affairs, and Natural Resources, as well as the Royal Canadian Mint, and Rideau Hall.
All future medals awarded to Canadians for their services in battle will now be minted and presented in Canada. To date, 94 Canadians have won the Victoria Cross by displaying incredible bravery, courage, and sacrifice in battle. The last living recipient of the Victoria Cross, Second World War veteran, Smoky Smith, passed away just over one year ago.
The new Victoria Cross represents our proud Canadian heritage, while recognizing our country’s distinctive identity and countless global contributions. This new Cross will give future Canadian recipients great pride and will be even more special by being truly and entirely Canadian.