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Casey Peirce was cycling with her family at Spray Lakes, Alta., two years ago when she heard cries from the frigid, storm-tossed waters nearby.

A man and woman were clinging to an overturned canoe in the middle of the mountain lake near Canmore. Peirce jumped in, swam to them and towed the pair and their vessel a kilometre to safety.

For her herculean efforts, the Governor General has awarded the Calgary resident the Star of Courage for an act of "conspicuous courage in circumstances of great peril." It's the country's second-highest civilian decoration for bravery.

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It is one of 17 bravery awards announced by Rideau Hall on Tuesday.

Peirce's fingers were already numb from the cold water by the time she reached the capsized vessel on July 26, 2008. She grabbed the canoe's mooring rope and wrapped it around her wrist.

She then towed the canoe - the couple still clinging to it - toward the shore nearly a kilometre away. Exhausted, Peirce dragged them for 45 minutes until they were close enough for others to pull the chilled victims from the water.

Two of the awards announced by Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean were Stars of Courage, while 15 were Medals of Bravery for "acts of bravery in hazardous circumstances."

Alexander Bruce Scott of Saint John, N.B., is to receive a Star of Courage for jumping into icy water to rescue a suicidal man from drowning on Feb. 27, 2008.

The rest were Medals of Bravery:

  • Victoria police sergeants John Ayers and Michael Johnston, and Const. Clifford Watson held their ground and risked their lives to stop a car thief from escaping a roadblock on Feb. 3, 2007.
  • Leading Seaman Robert Binder of Toronto, who has since died, Master Cpl. David King of Victoria and Able Seaman Jaret McQueen of Hamilton made repeated dives in murky waters to rescue a man from a submerged vehicle in Esquimalt, B.C., on Aug. 14, 2008.
  • Rescue technician Steve Blake of Jasper, Alta., and pilot Dale Brady of Valemount, B.C., braved thin air and severe winds in a helicopter rescue of two climbers who'd been missing for nearly three weeks on Mount Robson, B.C., in the summer of 2008. It's Brady's second bravery medal.
  • Shane Doucette of Red Deer, Alta., held his breath and jumped into a tank of toxic methane gas on Aug. 18, 2008, to rescue an unconscious co-worker.
  • Montreal police Sgt. Patrick Lalonde and constables Lionel Girault and Jean Milliard put their lives on the line to arrest an armed bank robber after an officer had been shot on July 12, 2001.
  • Guy Lavoie of Saint-Narcisse, Que., fought his way through intense heat and flame to rescue an injured woman from a burning vehicle in Rimouski, Que., after it collided with a tractor-trailer July 4, 2008.
  • Off-duty police constable Cal Traversy of Delta, B.C., rescued four people from a burning house on Sept. 12, 2008 - braving smoke and flame to pull three from inside and catching a fourth who jumped from a second-floor window. He then wrapped a jacket around his face and crawled back through the flames to ensure that no one else was trapped inside.
  • Andrea Wiznuk of Enderby, B.C., rescued a woman trapped inside a burning vehicle Aug. 14, 2006.

Created in 1972, the bravery decorations recognize those who risk their lives "and choose to defy their own instinct of survival" in attempts to save others.

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There are three levels, topped by the Cross of Valour for "acts of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme peril."

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