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Canada Trailblazing ski twins, now just shy of 97th birthdays, among Order of Canada appointments

Rhoda and Rhona Wurtele skiing in Banff in 1946.

Rhoda and Rhona Wurtele forged a path for women in Canadian sports with a combination of pluck and raw talent. The Montreal twins dominated skiing at a time the field was still largely the domain of men.

The pair paid little heed to warnings that downhill skiing was dangerous. They just hit the slopes and scored victory after victory.

Through the 1940s and 1950s, the sisters finished first and second in dozens of international races, and made up the entire Canadian women’s Olympic ski team in 1948. They suffered broken ankles and head gashes but kept going. In doing so, they broke down barriers and inspired generations of Canadian women who followed.

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Now, three weeks shy of their 97th birthdays, the identical twins are receiving one of Canada’s highest honours. The Wurtele sisters – Rhoda Wurtele Eaves and Rhona Wurtele Gillis – figure in the newest appointments to the Order of Canada, announced by Governor-General Julie Payette. The recognition is a belated nod to the two women for their “role as trailblazers in winter sports.”

“We were sort of pioneers, I guess,” Ms. Eaves said from her home in Pointe-Claire, near Montreal. But it never occurred to them that they were trailblazers while they were busy racing down mountains. “We were just having fun. We were pretty wild and we weren’t afraid of anything.”

The twins, who also taught thousands of children and adults to ski, were recognized for embodying the motto of the Order of Canada: “They desire a better country.” Other Canadians attained the same honour through a multitude of different paths, each of them unique.

They include choreographers such as Jean Grand-Maître, artistic director of the Alberta Ballet, and Winnipeg-born actor Len Cariou, a Tony Award winner. Others earned the distinction for their commitment to social justice, such as James Lockyer, the Toronto criminal lawyer who has fought to defend the wrongly convicted.

Eva Aariak, the former premier of Nunavut, was named for her dedication to promoting Inuit culture and languages. Ann-Marie MacDonald, the author and actor, was recognized for her contributions to the arts and advocacy of LGBTQ+ and women’s rights.

And Thomas Dignan, of Thunder Bay, a pioneer in Aboriginal health and the first member of a First Nations to graduate from medical school, was honoured for his dedication to the health and well-being of Indigenous communities.

If some may aspire to one day see their names on the Order of Canada list, others have the prize bestowed on them as an unexpected gift. The Wurtele sisters continue their commitment to public service, speaking recently to the Trafalgar School for Girls in Montreal that they had themselves once attended. But their days of gracing the pages of True Picture comic books (“Canada’s Terrific Twins”), like they did in the ’40s, are behind them.

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“I nearly fell over when I heard about it,” Ms. Eaves said about the honour, speaking in a clear and forceful voice from her senior’s residence. “We were very surprised. We’re getting kind of old at this point.” But not so old that she has to sit still, however: Ms. Eaves still skis.

In all, Rideau Hall announced 103 new appointments to the Order of Canada.

Companions of the Order

James Arthur of Toronto

Geoffrey E. Hinton of Toronto

Officers of the Order

Jo-ann Archibald Q'um Q'um Xiiem of Chilliwack, B.C.

Vernon Burrows of Ottawa (This is a promotion within the Order.)

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Leonard Joseph Cariou of Winnipeg and New York, N.Y.

Levente László Diosady of Toronto

Digvir Jayas of Winnipeg

Suzanne Lacasse of Rouyn-Noranda, Que., and Oslo, Norway

Robert Lacroix of Montreal (This is a promotion within the Order.)

Daniel Lamarre of Montreal

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Leroy Little Bear of Lethbridge, Alta.

Ann-Marie MacDonald of Toronto

Christopher Newton of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. (This is a promotion within the Order.)

Jean Pelletier of Rosemère, Que.

Rebecca Scott of Canmore, Alta.

Robert Tessier of Saint-Lambert, Que.

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Richard Ernest Tremblay of Montreal

Honorary Members of the Order

Kathleen Reichs of Montreal and Charlotte, N.C.

Richard J. Schmeelk of Montreal and New York, N.Y.

Members of the Order

Eva Aariak of Iqaluit, Nvt.

Brent Belzberg of Toronto

Hélène Boisjoly of Montreal

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Barbara M. Bowlby of Toronto

Doneta A. P. Brotchie of Winnipeg

Shelley Ann Marie Brown of Saskatoon

John M. Brunton of Toronto

Shirley Cheechoo of M'Chigeeng First Nation, Ont.

Robert Crosbie of St. John’s

Joanne Cuthbertson of Calgary

Kevin J. Dancey of Toronto

Michel de la Chenelière of Montreal

Raymond L. Desjardins of Luskville, Que.

Thomas Dignan of Thunder Bay, Ont.

Ian Robert Dohoo of Charlottetown, P.E.I.

Lyse Doucet of Bathurst, N.B., and London, England

Micheline Dumont of Sherbrooke, Que.

Jean André Élie of Montreal

Darren Entwistle of Vancouver

Ann McCain Evans of Florenceville-Bristol, N.B.

Roxanne Fairweather of Saint John

Ross D. Feldman of Winnipeg

Charles Edgar Fipke of Kelowna, B.C.

Charles Fischer of Calgary

Léopold L. Foulem of Montreal

Ron Foxcroft of Hamilton, Ont.

John Ferguson Godfrey of Toronto

Georges Henri Goguen of Moncton, N.B.

Blake Charles Goldring of Toronto

Serge Gouin of Outremont, Que.

Jean Grand-Maître of Calgary

Daniel Granger of Montreal

Gordon Cecil Gray of Toronto

Alfred Halasa of Montreal

Linda Hasenfratz of Guelph, Ont.

Jay Hennick of Toronto

Michael Higgins of Toronto

Paul John Higgins of Toronto

Robert Hindmarch of Vancouver

Robert Hung-Ngai Ho of Vancouver

John Kirk Howard of Toronto

Austin Hillard Hunt of Kagawong, Ont.

Barbara Jackman of Toronto

Christina Jennings of Toronto

Alexandra F. Johnston of Toronto

Bengt Jörgen of Toronto

Roger Philip Kerans of Calgary

Robert Korneluk of Ottawa

Mary R. L’Abbé of Toronto

Gilbert Laporte of Montreal

Donald Gordon Lawson of Toronto

Daniel Lessard of Saint-Benjamin, Que., and Ottawa

H. Frank Lewis of Charlottetown, P.E.I.

James Lockyer of Toronto

Gloria Macarenko of Vancouver

John McEwen of Toronto

Jefferson Mooney of Vancouver

Raymond Alexander Muzyka of Edmonton

Maxine Noel of Stratford, Ont.

Francis Pang of Fredericton, N.B., and Toronto

Kathleen Pearson of Victoria

Isabelle Peretz of Montreal

Andrew Petter of Burnaby, B.C.

Marshall S. Pynkoski of Toronto

Imant Karlis Raminsh of Coldstream, B.C.

Dominique Rankin of La Conception, Que.

John Rea of Montreal

Michèle Rivet of Montreal

Henri-Paul Rousseau of Montreal

Claudine Roy of Gaspé, Que.

Louis Sabourin of Montreal

André Simard of Saint-Agathe-des-Monts, Que.

Peter D. Simons of Québec City

Pekka Sinervo of Toronto

Arthur Slutsky of Toronto

Heather Stuart of Kingston, Ont.

Camille Henri Thériault of Moncton, N.B.

Charles Maral Tisseyre of Montreal

Denis Vaugeois of Québec City

Elisabeth Walker-Young of Vancouver

Rhoda Wurtele Eaves of Westmount, Que.

Rhona Wurtele Gillis of Westmount, Que.

Gregory Zeschuk of Edmonton

Jeannette Regula Lajeunesse Zingg of Toronto

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