Victoria Cross (Canada)

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Victoria Cross
A bronze cross pattée bearing the crown of Saint Edward surmounted by a lion with the inscription Pro Valore. A crimson ribbon is attached
The Canadian Victoria Cross, as appearing in a promotional photograph from the Canadian government, May 2008.
TypeMilitary decoration
Awarded forThe most conspicuous bravery, daring or pre-eminent acts of valour, self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.
Presented byThe monarch of Canada
EligibilityMembers of the Canadian Armed Forces or an allied force serving with the Canadian Armed Forces on or after 1 January 1993.
StatusCurrently awarded
Established2 February 1993
Created byElizabeth II
Total recipients0
Ribbon bar of the Victoria Cross
Next (lower)Cross of Valour

The Victoria Cross (VC; French: Croix de Victoria) was created in 1993, perpetuating the lineage of the British Victoria Cross, while serving as the highest award within the Canadian honours system, taking precedence over all other orders, decorations, and medals. It is awarded by either the Canadian monarch or his viceregal representative, the governor general of Canada, to any member of the Canadian Armed Forces or allies serving under or with Canadian military command for extraordinary valour and devotion to duty while facing hostile forces. The British Victoria Cross was recommended prior to the creation of the Canadian medal. The previous Victoria Cross remains the highest award of the United Kingdom honours system and was also awarded in other Commonwealth countries; although most, including Canada, later established their own honours systems and no longer recommended British honours.

Whereas in many other Commonwealth countries the relevant version of the Victoria Cross can only be awarded for actions against the enemy in a wartime setting, the Canadian government has a broader definition of the term enemy. In Canada, the Victoria Cross can be awarded for action against armed mutineers, pirates, or other such hostile forces without war being officially declared. Recipients are entitled to use the post-nominal letters VC (for both English and French) and also to receive an annuity of CA$3,000.[1] The decoration has not been awarded since its inception.


The original Victoria Cross was created by a Royal Warrant issued on 29 January 1856 with the royal sign-manual of Queen Victoria, and was intended to recognize demonstrations of gallantry during the Crimean War, regardless of either a man's social status or his record of service.[2] Initially, the Victoria Cross could not be conferred on colonial troops,[3] until Major Charles Heaphy received the medal for his actions while serving with a New Zealand militia unit in 1864.[4] After this, the Victoria Cross was made available to all "local forces under imperial command."[5] The cross could not be awarded posthumously but the policy was reversed in 1907.[3][6]

Until 1972, 81 members of the Canadian military (including those from Newfoundland) and 13 Canadians serving in British units had been awarded the Victoria Cross.[7] After that date, however, the Canadian honours system was overhauled, and the Victoria Cross was eliminated from the official list of honours, instigating a decades-long debate on whether or not to reinstate the decoration. The prime minister at the time, Pierre Trudeau, regularly dodged questions about the Victoria Cross, stating only that Canadians should receive Canadian decorations.[8] In 1987, prime minister Brian Mulroney set up a committee to look into the creation of a Canadian Victoria Cross as part of a new series of military honours.[9] Although the committee did not recommend the Victoria Cross—names such as the Canada Cross and the Cross of Military Valour were put forward[10][11]—the creation of a Victoria Cross for Australia in 1991 and pressure from The Globe and Mail and advocacy groups,[12] such as the Monarchist League of Canada and the Royal Canadian Legion, forced the plans to be amended.[10][13] In 1991 a private member's bill received all-party support in the House of Commons, following which the Victoria Cross, along with other Canadian military valour decorations, were on 31 December 1992 formally requested by Mulroney. The request was approved with the issue of letters patent by Queen Elizabeth II on 2 February of the following year, thereby ceasing Canadian dependence (except for those honours and awards in the personal gift of the Sovereign) on the British honours system.[14]


The Victoria Cross is awarded for "the most conspicuous bravery, a daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty, in the presence of the enemy" at any point after 1 January 1993. It may be presented posthumously, and, like its British counterpart, can not be revoked.[14] The main distinction between the Victoria Cross and the Cross of Valour is the specific reference to "the enemy",[15] which the Canadian government has defined as a force hostile towards the Canadian Crown, including armed mutineers, rebels, rioters, and pirates. This means that the King-in-Council does not officially have to declare war to give acknowledgement of the existence of a hostile force that fits the official description.[16] Thus, a Canadian serving as part of a peacekeeping operation is eligible to be awarded the Victoria Cross if the service member fulfils the above criteria.

In the case of a gallant and daring act having been performed by a squadron, ship's company, or detached body of individuals (such as a security detachment) in which all persons were deemed equally brave and deserving of the Victoria Cross, a ballot is to be drawn; the commissioned and non-commissioned officers each select one of their own, and the private soldiers or seamen select from amongst themselves two individuals.[n 1] This provision with modification is included in the current warrant but has not been used since the First World War.

The process of awarding the Victoria Cross may take place in two ways: One is through a recommendation by the Decorations and Commendations Advisory Committee,[18] which is a part of the Department of National Defence and has six members, one appointed by the governor general and the rest by the chief of the Defence Staff. Alternatively, a field commander can submit a name for consideration, though permission must be obtained from the governor general before the award can be presented. Recipients are entitled to receive an annuity from the federal Canadian Crown; per the Canadian gallantry awards order issued in January 2005, members of the Canadian Armed Forces or those who joined the British forces while domiciled in Canada or Newfoundland prior to 31 March 1949, after receiving the Victoria Cross, be granted CA$3,000 each year.[19] Previously, Canadians who were posthumously awarded the British Victoria Cross were given special headstones at their burial sites in Commonwealth War Graves and other cemeteries.[15]

A granite tomb engraved with The Unknown Soldier on the side; a bronze relief sculpture is atop the sarcophagus
Close-up of the Canadian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

To date, no Canadian Victoria Cross has been conferred; Smokey Smith, who died in 2005, was the last living Canadian recipient of the imperial Victoria Cross, personally receiving it from King George VI at Buckingham Palace in December 1944. The last action that resulted in a Canadian being awarded the Victoria Cross was to Lieutenant Robert Hampton Gray for gallantry on 9 August 1945, at Onagawa Bay, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. The award was posthumously gazetted on 13 November 1945 although in the following five months, three additional awards to Canadians were gazetted for actions in 1941, 1942 and February 1945. Prior to Queen Elizabeth II's re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial on 7 April 2007, there was speculation she would present a Canadian Victoria Cross to her then-prime minister, Stephen Harper, offering it in recognition of the gallantry of the Unknown Soldier, as representative of all Canada's casualties of combat.[20] The proposal was met with a mixed response from members of the Royal Canadian Legion and Canadian Armed Forces, detractors feeling that the Unknown Soldier should not be elevated above his other comrades killed in war. It had also been agreed at the time of the Unknown Soldier's repatriation that no award or decoration would be bestowed on the remains.[21] No decision was taken about the awarding of the Victoria Cross to the Unknown Soldier.[22]

Near the end of Canada's role in the Afghanistan War, concerns were raised about the stringency of the criteria that needed to be met to receive the Victoria Cross. Other countries with a Victoria Cross had awarded it numerous times since the end of the Second World War, some members of the Australian, New Zealand, and British armed forces receiving the decoration for their actions during the Afghan and Iraq wars of the 2000s. Members of the Canadian Armed Forces questioned why some actions by Canadians were deemed worthy only of the Star of Military Valour; citations for individuals who had received the imperial Victoria Cross during the First World War were very similar to those for Canadians who were presented with the Star of Military Valour during the war in Afghanistan. This led then Chief of the Defence Staff, Walter Natynczyk, to create a special committee to review the matter. The Department of National Defence's Directorate of Honours and Recognition explained concepts of war had changed since the mid-20th century and Canada had also developed a more elaborate honours system.[23]

Beginning in 2021, a campaign was launched to award Jess Larochelle the medal, upgrading his Star of Military Valour. To date the campaign has been unsuccessful.[24]

Appearance and display[edit]

A bronze cross pattée bearing the crown of Saint Edward surmounted by a lion with the inscription Pro Valore. A Bar crosses the crimson ribbon attached to the medal.
The Victoria Cross of Canada, shown with a medal bar indicating a second award

The design of the Canadian medal is derived from that of the British original, which was the creation of Albert, Prince Consort,[25] royal consort to Queen Victoria. Canada's Victoria Cross is thus a cross pattée with straight arms, 38 millimetres (1.5 in) across in each direction, and made out of bronze coloured alloy, the obverse bearing a lion crowned and statant guardant, similar to that which forms the crest of the Royal Arms of Canada, standing upon a representation of St. Edward's Crown, which itself rests above a semi-circular scroll. On the reverse is a raised circle for engraving the date of the act of gallantry along with the name, rank, and unit of the recipient.[25] The medal is suspended from a link forming the letter V attached to a bar adorned on the front with laurel leaves, and on the reverse with the name, rank, and unit of the medal's recipient,[16] all cast in the same metal as the medal. The ribbon, also 38 mm wide, is solid crimson in colour.[26] Cathy Bursey-Sabourin, Fraser Herald of the Canadian Heraldic Authority, and Bruce W. Beatty, however, made certain modifications for the Canadian Victoria Cross, the most notable being the inclusion of Canadian flora as decoration and the alteration of the inscription on the scroll from FOR VALOUR to the Latin translation, PRO VALORE,[25] so as to accommodate Canada's two official languages.[27] In 2008, Citizens for a Canadian Republic's leader, Tom Freda, publicly objected to the decoration's name and appearance, with what he saw as its "objectionable colonial symbolism," royal iconography, and a shape offensive to Muslims and Jews.[28]

With Canada at war for the first time since its version of the Victoria Cross was created, preparations for a physical cast of the medal were initiated in 2006, when a committee called the Victoria Cross Production Planning Group was formed under the leadership of the Chancellery of Honours at Rideau Hall. It originally consisted of representatives from the Department of National Defence, Veterans Affairs Canada, and the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General of Canada, and the group later expanded to include individuals from the Department of Canadian Heritage, Natural Resources Canada, and the Royal Canadian Mint,[16] with assistance provided by the Queen and the British Ministry of Defence.[29] Following their research and deliberations, the first Victoria Cross decoration was struck in 2007, as confirmed by Deputy Herald Chancellor Emmanuelle Sajous,[10] and the medal was officially released to the public on 16 May 2008 by Governor General Michaëlle Jean at Rideau Hall.[30] It was one of 20 cast, each of which is composed of three groupings of metals: that of a Russian cannon captured at the siege of Sevastopol (1854–1855), donated by Queen Elizabeth II; a Confederation Medal, created to mark Canada's confederation in 1867; and a selection of metals from each of Canada's regions.[n 2][33][34] These were cast, rather than struck, continuing the tradition started in the United Kingdom when it was found the metal alloy was too brittle for striking,[1] and finished at the Royal Canadian Mint. The first two were sent to Buckingham Palace for addition to the British Royal Collection and other specimens were kept as part of the Crown Collection at Rideau Hall, as well as at the Department of National Defence, Library and Archives Canada, and the Canadian War Museum.[29]

As the apex of the Canadian system of honours, the Victoria Cross is to be worn before all other Canadian decorations and insignia of orders, including the Order of Merit and the Order of Canada. It is worn as a medal, suspended from a medal bar on the left chest, unless protocol calls for a ribbon bar, which consists of a crimson ribbon with a miniature bronze Victoria Cross at its centre. Should an individual receive multiple awards of the Victoria Cross, additional bronze medal bars are added to the ribbon and further miniatures are placed evenly on the ribbon bar, reflecting the number of crosses the wearer has earned.[14]


  1. ^ Clause 13 of the original warrant constituting the Victoria Cross states: "It is ordained that in the event of a gallant and daring act having been performed by a squadron, ship's company, or detached body of seamen and marines not under fifty in number, or by a brigade, regiment, troop or company in which the admiral, general, or other officer commanding such forces may deem that all are equally brave and distinguished, and that no special selection can be made by them, then is such case the admiral, general, or other officer commanding, may direct that for any such body of seamen or marines, or for every troop or company of soldiers, one officer shall be selected by the officers engaged for the Decoration, and in like manner one petty officer or non-commissioned officer shall be selected by the petty officers and non-commissioned officers engaged, and two seamen or private soldiers or marines shall be selected by the seamen, or private soldiers, or marines engaged, respectively for the Decoration, and the names of those selected shall be transmitted by the senior officers in command of the Naval force, brigade, regiment, troop, or company, to the admiral or general officer commanding, who shall in due manner confer the Decoration as if the acts were done under his own eye."[17]
  2. ^ According to Natural Resources Canada: "All British and Commonwealth Victoria Crosses reputedly include metal from a cannon captured during the Crimean War (1854–1856). The Canadian Victoria Cross also includes metal from the same cannon, as does one of Canada's Confederation Medals, produced in 1867. To reflect Canada's rich resource-based industries, commercially-made copper and other metals from Canadian sources were used. This was supplemented with naturally occurring copper from NRCan and private collections, representing all regions of Canada."[31] The traditional explanation of the source of the gunmetal has been cast in doubt by the research of John Glanfield, which suggested a variety of origins for the British medals' materials.[32]


  1. ^ a b Reynolds 2008, p. 40
  2. ^ Ashcroft 2006, Introduction
  3. ^ a b "Victoria Cross Heroes". Channel 5. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 31 July 2009.
  4. ^ Fitzgerald, Michael. "Heaphy, Charles 1820–1881". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  5. ^ Standish, Michael Wordsworth (1966). "Heaphy, Charles". In McLintock, A.H. (ed.). An Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Wellington: Queen's Printer. Retrieved 31 July 2009.
  6. ^ Reynolds 2008, p. 14
  7. ^ Reynolds 2008, pp. 14–15
  8. ^ Campbell, Murray; Moore, Oliver (3 March 2007). "Top honour now cast in Canada". The Globe and Mail.
  9. ^ Lochnan, Carl. "Victoria Cross". In Marsh, James Harley (ed.). The Canadian Encyclopedia. Toronto: Historica Foundation of Canada. Archived from the original on 16 May 2005. Retrieved 31 July 2009.
  10. ^ a b c Dundas, Charles (2007). "VC Not Presented at Vimy Commemoration" (PDF). Canadian Monarchist News. Summer 2007 (26). Toronto: Monarchist League of Canada: 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 June 2008. Retrieved 31 July 2009.
  11. ^ McCreery 2005
  12. ^ "It's an Honour > Honours > Awards > A-Z of Awards > Victoria Cross for Australia". Australian Government. Archived from the original on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 31 July 2009.
  13. ^ Jackson, Michael D. (2007). "Honours of the Crown" (PDF). Canadian Monarchist News. Summer 2007 (26). Toronto: Monarchist League of Canada: 11. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 June 2008. Retrieved 31 July 2009.
  14. ^ a b c "Canadian Forces page on the medal". Canadian Armed Forces. Archived from the original on 17 May 2008. Retrieved 12 July 2007.
  15. ^ a b Reynolds 2008, p. 13
  16. ^ a b c Reynolds 2008, p. 38
  17. ^ "No. 21846". The London Gazette. 5 February 1856. p. 411. This issue contains official publication of the original warrant issued by Queen Victoria
  18. ^ Department of National Defence (30 January 2004). The Honours, Flags and Heritage Structure of the Canadian Forces (PDF) (2 ed.). Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada. pp. 2–2–6. A-AD-200-000/AG-000. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 December 2008. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  19. ^ Elizabeth II (1 August 1990). Gallantry Awards Order. 2, 4.1.a. Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada.
  20. ^ "Top military honour now cast in Canada". CTV. 3 March 2007. Archived from the original on 5 March 2007. Retrieved 12 July 2007.
  21. ^ Teotonio, Isabel (7 March 2007). "Vets irate at Victoria Cross proposal". Toronto Star. Retrieved 7 December 2007.
  22. ^ "No decision yet on Victoria Cross award: PM". CBC News. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 6 March 2007. Archived from the original on 16 March 2007. Retrieved 8 November 2009.
  23. ^ Brewster, Murray (7 November 2012). "Canada's war in Afghanistan may go without highest battle honour". Global News. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  24. ^ Brewster, Murray (1 September 2023). "Soldier praised for heroism in Afghanistan dies". CBC News. Retrieved 29 November 2023.
  25. ^ a b c Department of National Defence. "Victoria Cross". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 4 August 2009.
  26. ^ Ashcroft 2006, p. 16
  27. ^ Noppe, David (May 2008). "Canadian Victoria Cross unveiled". National Defence and the Canadian Forces. Archived from the original on 9 June 2011. Retrieved 30 August 2011.
  28. ^ Freda, Tom (25 May 2008), "Hanging on to Victoria's cross", Ottawa Citizen, archived from the original on 18 April 2010, retrieved 8 August 2010
  29. ^ a b Reynolds 2008, p. 43
  30. ^ El Akkad, Omar (17 May 2008). "Canadian Victoria Cross unveiled". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 17 May 2008.
  31. ^ Natural Resources Canada (30 December 2008). "Canadian Victorian Cross". Queen's Printer for Canada. Archived from the original on 15 May 2009. Retrieved 4 August 2009.
  32. ^ Davies, Catronia (28 December 2005). "Author explodes myth of the gunmetal VC". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 16 June 2007.
  33. ^ Reynolds 2008, p. 39
  34. ^ Noppe, Dave (28 May 2008). "Canadian Victoria Cross unveiled". The Maple Leaf. 11 (20). Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada. Archived from the original on 9 June 2011. Retrieved 4 August 2009.


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