OTTAWA — In a renovated shed in his garden, author Yann Martel drafts and redrafts his best sellers.
The novelist writes in English, although his first language is French, and his work — including “Life of Pi” — has been translated into dozens of languages and adapted for both stage and screen.
But it is through the language of giving that the renowned writer quietly speaks with his altruism.
For years, the author and his wife, novelist Alice Kuipers, have helped Indigenous people and at-risk mothers and babies in Saskatchewan. The couple have donated a house rent-free in Saskatoon to a series of refugee families from Syria, Sudan and Eritrea.
It is for both his literary and philanthropic contributions that he is being honoured as a companion of the Order of Canada.
Martel is among 135 distinguished Canadians appointed as the newest members of to the decades-old honour roll. The list released Wednesday by Rideau Hall includes figures from the worlds of science, sport and the arts.
“I wonder, ‘What about her, what about him? They surely deserve it more,’” said Martel, whose book “Life of Pi,” which has sold over 12 million copies, was released 20 years ago.
“But I’m happy, while feeling humbled. For me, it validates for me the importance of storytelling and giving.”
Joining Martel as a companion of the Order of Canada, the highest level, is former senator Murray Sinclair, the noted Indigenous advocate who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into Canada’s residential school history.
The commission released its final report in 2015 after hearing testimony from residential school survivors and their families over several years about the lasting trauma on generations of Indigenous people.
While Martel and Sinclair are the only new companions of the Order of Canada, dozens of new officers and members are also being added.
Those include Dr. Mehran Anvari, an innovator in robotic surgery, and cybercartographer D.R. Fraser Taylor, who revolutionized the way maps are drawn and used.
It also includes Judy Cameron, the first woman pilot for Air Canada and the country’s first female captain of both a Boeing 767 and 777.
In the 1970s, Cameron rode a motorbike across B.C. to get to flight school, becoming its first woman graduate. The pilot said receiving the Order of Canada “is the greatest honour of my life.”
Quebec cultural icon Marc Labreche is being honoured for his unique sense of humour and talent as an actor, while musician Yves Lambert is being appointed to the order for promoting and reviving traditional French-Canadian music.
Sprinter Bruny Surin, who helped secure a gold medal for the men’s relay team at the 1996 Olympics, runs onto the list alongside retired justice Hugh Fraser, a fellow sprinter who represented Canada at the 1976 summer Olympics.
Among the many Indigenous recipients is Deborah Chatsis, the first member of a First Nation to serve as an ambassador for Canada. Chatsis, who served as ambassador to Vietnam and Guatemala, as well as high commissioner to Belize, is a member of Ahtahkakoop First Nation.
The 2021 list of additions and promotions to the order is the first to be announced by Mary Simon, who became governor general in July.
In a statement, Simon said the list of inductees represents examples of Canadians who have made outstanding contributions to the well-being of communities, “whether it be social, environmental, scientific, economic, cultural or related to mental and physical health.”
Among those honoured for helping fellow Canadians is Diane Sowden, who for almost two decades has campaigned against the sexual exploitation and trafficking of children. She began her campaign after her 13-year-old daughter was “sold” for a drug debt and exploited on the streets of Vancouver.
There are also several eminent scientists on the list, including Connie Eaves, recognized for being a pioneer in cancer and stem-cell research, and Dr. Barry Bultz, honoured for research into the impact of cancer-related distress on patients.
Max Eisen and Rose Lipszyc are each recognized for telling their stories of survival during the Second World War and contributing to Holocaust education.
Eisen wrote a moving, best-selling memoir about his experiences during the holocaust, including detention in the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and a death march in 1945 to the Mauthausen camp.
Lipszyc survived the Nazi extermination of Jews during the Second World War after her mother made her flee a round-up. She subsequently posed as a Polish child worker.
Simon will host next year’s investiture ceremonies for the nominees at Rideau Hall, her official residence in Ottawa, bestowing recipients with the insignia of the order: a white enamel snowflake of six points with a stylized maple leaf at its centre.
More than 7,500 people have been invested into the Order of Canada since it was first established in 1967.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 29, 2021.