Young Canadians are stepping up and making a difference in record numbers today, but being agents for change isn't new for Canada's youth. Below is a cross-section of remarkable Canadians who made a difference in their younger years.
Billy Green (1813)
Better known in Niagara and Southwestern Ontario than elsewhere in Canada, Billy Green was a 19-year-old hero of the War of 1812. The son of Loyalists who fled from New Jersey, he served as a scout in the 1813 Battle of Stoney Creek, learning the secret American password that British soldiers could use to infiltrate enemy lines – and win the battle.
Charles Best (1921)
Dr. Best was the young assistant to Frederick Banting, whose research at the University of Toronto discovered insulin, the first effective treatment in history for diabetes. Millions of people since literally owe their lives to Dr. Best, who was 22 at the time of the discovery – the names Banting and Best have together been associated with insulin ever since.
Terry Fox (1980)
Considered by virtually everyone to be one of Canada's most inspiring heroes, Terry Fox decided to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research after he lost his right leg to osteosarcoma, a form of the disease in the bone. Starting in 1980, he ran a full marathon on an artificial leg every day, until he was forced to stop when the cancer spread to his lungs. He was a national hero even before his death in 1981 and he remains one today.
Young Politicians (Today)
It's easy to denigrate politicians, but there's something admirable about young people from any party who put their names forward to get involved. In Parliament now, there's Conservative Pierre-Luc Dusseault, first elected at 19, as well as Liberal Kamal Khera, a 26-year-old registered nurse and New Democrat Ruth Ellen Brosseau, 32, who didn't think she would win in 2011 but was re-elected in 2015.
Young Athletes (Always)
From the young Maurice Richard and Jean Béliveau to Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky to today's stars such as Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, there's no shortage of youthful stars to celebrate. There are also our Olympians, from Clara Hughes to Penny Oleksiak to Andre De Grasse to historic heroes like Tom Longboat and Harry Jerome. In addition to their athletic achievements, what distinguishes our best athletes has been their dedication to pitching in for good causes, setting examples for everyone.
Young Musicians (Always)
Some of them are not so young anymore and some of them are no longer with us, but Canada can still celebrate the youthful days of artists such as Buffy Sainte-Marie, who spoke out for indigenous people from her early days, to Gordon Lightfoot, who helped us tell our stories through song, to Neil Young, who still works for activist causes, to Drake (still young), who put the Six on the map. Our young artists, performers and authors also should be recognized.
In 1972 a group of young Vancouverites concerned about global warfare took a boat to the site of nuclear testing in the Pacific. Since then, Greenpeace has been raising a ruckus to save the planet – whether you agree with their point of view or their actions or not, they're a force for change. It's hard to imagine Canada or the world without the environmental movement.
Craig Kielburger (1995 to now)
No list of youth who made a difference would be complete without the co-founder of the We movement. Craig Kielburger dedicated himself to change when he was 12 and he saw a newspaper article about another 12-year-old, Iqbal Masih of Pakistan, who had been murdered for battling child labour. Mr. Kielburger asked his Grade 7 teacher if he could speak with his classmates; it turned out they wanted to be change agents, too, and it led to Free the Children and then We.