• An image of Canada's new Polar Medal.

    An image of Canada's new Polar Medal.

A new honour, called the Polar Medal, was announced by the Governor General on Tuesday as a way to celebrate Canada’s Northern heritage and recognize those promoting a greater understanding of Northern communities and people. The call for nominations will start this fall for the Polar Medal, which replaces the Governor General’s Northern Medal that was created in 2005. “The creation of the Polar Medal emphasizes the importance that our country places on strengthening our understanding of and connection to the North,” Governor General David Johnston said in a statement. “Recognizing the outstanding contributions made by those working and living there, which is not without challenges and risks, will make our Canadian Honours System more comprehensive and better able to celebrate the full breadth of Canadian achievement.” Queen Elizabeth II has approved the creation of the medal, which will also highlight achievements in polar exploration and scientific discoveries, Johnston said. The medal itself – designed by Major Carl Gauthier of the Directorate of Honours and Recognition section of the Department of National Defence – is a silver octagonal adorned with a representation of the North Star. The front depicts Queen Elizabeth II and the word “CANADA” while the reverse includes the Royal Canadian Mounted Police schooner St. Roch in the Arctic. Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement Tuesday saying he welcomes the medal. “I am delighted that we as a country, through the Canadian Honours System, will now publicly recognize outstanding contributions to the North, a vital part not only of our geography but of our collective identity and pride as Canadians,” Harper said. The United Kingdom instituted a Polar Medal in 1904 to reward the participants in Captain Robert F. Scott’s successful first expedition to the Antarctic region. It has subsequently been used to reward personnel of major explorations recognized by UK or Commonwealth governments. Historically, Canadians received the British precursor to the new honour. According to Dr. Christopher McCreery, in his book The Canadian Honours System, "The Arctic Medal was awarded to Canadians who served in John Rae's expedition in the 1850s and other Arctic expeditions. The [British] Polar Medal was awarded to members of the RCMP crew of the St Roch." In addition to Canada's new Polar Medal, other medals derived from the British original include the Australian Antarctic Medal and the New Zealand Antarctic Medal. The United States also has a medal for polar research. Canada's medal, like Britain's, can also be awarded for research or other contributions by Canadians in Antarctica.