‘Riverton Rifle’among new Order of Canada members
OTTAWA — Ask Reggie Leach about hockey and you can hear the joy in his voice as he talks about winning the Stanley Cup in his own playing days, and donning a Team Canada jersey and watching his children represent the country years later in hockey and lacrosse.
And then the man known as the “Riverton Rifle” stops to think about the thank-you the country is giving him this Canada Day for all he has done during and since his hockey career.
“Hockey to me was just a stepping stone to my life circle. I am more proud of what I did after hockey than what I did during my hockey days,” says Leach, who is Ojibwa.
Leach is among 83 new appointees to the Order of Canada, in a list that includes scientists, health-care advocates, jurists, actors, athletes and public servants. They join nearly 7,000 people on the honour roll – “the elites that Canada has to offer,” Leach says – since its introduction more than five decades ago, including Leach’s relative, educator Rev. Frederic Leach.
“To me, it’s one of the highest honours you can receive as a Canadian,” the former hockey star said. “It just hasn’t sunk in yet, but you think back on all the people who are in there and all of sudden you have Reggie Leach in the Order of Canada. It’s hard to believe. It’s something that will sink in.”
Leach’s NHL career started in the fall of 1970, three years after the Order of Canada was created in 1967 to mark Canada’s centenary.
It was around the same time that the women’s-rights movement was laying the foundation for women like Moya Greene to make their way up the corporate ladder.
Greene, originally of St. John’s, N.L., rose through the public service and the private sector to lead Canada Post in 2005.
‘She moved to the United Kingdom to become the first head of the Royal Mail in 2010.
Although she received a damehood from the Queen last year, Greene says the Order of Canada carries a different significance.
“This is the country of my birth. This is where I grew up. These are the people who educated me, these are the people who mentored me, who gave me this brilliant career,” Greene says in an interview from the U.K., where she still lives.
“This is very, very special for my country – the country that just gave me nothing but opportunity, really – to recognize me in this way.”
Leach looks on things the same way. He went from growing up poor in Riverton, Man., to playing alongside fellow Order of Canada member Bobby Clarke. The two hoisted the Stanley Cup in 1975.
The next year, Leach was named the most valuable player in the NHL playoffs – one of a very few from a team that didn’t win the championship – and donned the Team Canada jersey.
Leach regularly speaks to Indigenous youth about his life, hoping they don’t repeat his past missteps: “That’s what I live for today, is to help these kids out and get them in the right direction.”
Similar to Leach, it’s what Claude Raymond has done since his professional baseball career that gives him a smile. The former Montreal Expo runs an annual golf tournament to raise money for needy children, speaks with young people, and has his name tied to a baseball tournament that attracts some of the best youth teams in Quebec and Ontario.
“I’ve had many honours throughout my career and my life, but this is it,” he said of the Order of Canada.
Others are being promoted within the order, including some well-known faces from stages and screens: Singer Buffy Sainte-Marie and actors Martin Short and Donald Sutherland.
One new appointee, however, works behind the cameras.
Since the late 1970s, Renee April has been a costume designer for more than 50 Hollywood and television productions, including The Red Violin, Grey Owl, Night at the Museum, Arrival, and “Blade Runner 2049. She, too, said she is happiest with her work with young designers, paying forward opportunities others afforded her.
“That I am proud of – to give a chance and believe in young people and fresh talent,” she said.
Edna Elias has been teaching young people since she was a teacher’s assistant in the 1970s in what is now Nunavut, which turns 20 this July. She is one of the territory’s former commissioners – a role similar to a lieutenant-governor in provinces – and is being recognized for her decades-long efforts to maintain and revitalize traditional Inuit languages.
“There are a number of great people who are trying to do the same thing as I am who are now putting in a lot of the groundwork and doing the revitalization necessary,” Elias said.
“I hope that it (the Order of Canada) gives them incentive to carry on.”
Brewer John Sleeman is also on the list, as is Michael Smith, an American-born chef and television personality who has lived and worked mainly in Atlantic Canada since the 1990s.
He runs the Inn at Bay Fortune on Prince Edward Island with his wife Chastity and oversees its renowned kitchen.
“To be a Canadian is so tied to who I am as a person, as a human being, as a father, as a husband, as a neighbour, as a business owner. My values are here,” said Smith, whose work has included promoting eat-local initiatives.
“This honour is just a tremendous validation of 30 years of head-down hard work, doing it day after day after day because it’s the right thing to do. It’s just so hard to get your head around.”
Philadelphia Flyers players Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach hug seconds after Leach scored the winning goal in overtime against the Boston Bruins during the semifinals on April 30, 1976. Leach was one of 83 people named to the Order of Canada on Thursday.