The 26th Governor General of Canada (1999-2005), Adrienne Clarkson is universally acknowledged to have transformed the office during her six years at Rideau Hall and to have left an indelible mark on Canada’s history.
Clarkson was born in Hong Kong and came to Canada as a refugee in 1942. Her family settled in Ottawa, where she attended public schools until graduating from Lisgar Collegiate Institute in 1956. She obtained both an Honours B.A. and her M.A in English Literature from the University of Toronto’s Trinity College, followed by studies at La Sorbonne. Her work has been recognized with dozens of awards in Canada, the United States, and Europe including 32 honorary doctorates.
Her tenure as Governor General was remarkable for the considerable attention she brought to the courage of Canada’s Armed Forces and increased our vigilance to Canada’s commitment to international peace and security. Her passionate interest in Canada’s North, and in the circumpolar nations as a whole, led her to establish the Governor General’s Northern Medal, awarded annually to an individual who has contributed outstandingly to the understanding and development of the North. In particular, her interest in the Aboriginal peoples was remarkable and has helped push the question of native peoples in Canada to the forefront of national discussion.
National Post Columnist John Fraser once remarked that she “has the ability, unique among public officials, of making Canadians feel good about themselves and their country.” This talent was recognized by the Blood Tribe of Alberta who adopted her as an honorary chief. Clarkson was given the title “Grandmother of Many Nations.”
Upon leaving the office of Governor General in 2005, Madame Clarkson co-founded the Institute for Canadian citizenship (ICC), with her husband, John Ralston Saul. The Institute seeks to accelerate the acculturation of new citizens into Canadian life so they can participate fully and add their important voice to Canada’s pluralistic society.