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It may have taken 15 years, but Canada's highest honour for military valour is now officially made in Canada.

Governor-General Michaëlle Jean and Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday unveiled for the first time the Canadian Victoria Cross. The decoration takes its place atop the Canadian military honours system, replacing the highest honour available to soldiers of the British Commonwealth.

Canada assumed responsibility for the Victoria Cross in 1993, but it was only yesterday that the Canadian version of the medal was officially unveiled, the result of countless hours of work by myriad engineers, engravers and government departments.

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"It was important to us that we create a design that would honour tradition and that we produce the Canadian Victoria Cross right here in Canada," Ms. Jean said in a speech at Rideau Hall.

The Canadian Victoria Cross bears many similarities to its Commonwealth counterpart - a medal created after the Crimean War in the 1850s - but is also steeped in uniquely Canadian symbolism.

All Commonwealth Victoria Crosses are believed to include metal from a cannon used in the Crimean War. Canadian crosses will also be made of metal from the cannon, but will include metal from one of Canada's Confederation Medals, produced in 1867, as well as copper and other metals from all regions of the country.

The hallmarks of the original cross - a lion and the royal crown - are still there in the Canadian version. Perhaps the most significant change is in the small inscription. The British version contains the words "For Valour." The Canadian cross uses the Latin "Pro Valore," a nod to Canada's bilingualism.

The move to create a Canadian version came after much debate in the 1980s and '90s as to whether a British medal should be at the top of the Canadian military honours system. 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."

Very few Canadians have ever earned the right to use the post-nominal letters V.C. Since 1856, only 81 members of the Canadian military have won the Victoria Cross. In total, only 1,353 crosses have been issued.

Canada's last surviving winner of the Victoria Cross, Ernest (Smokey) Smith, died in 2005 at 91. Mr. Smith was awarded the cross for fighting off German tanks and troops in Italy in October of 1944.

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Despite being Canada's highest honour for heroism, the Victoria Cross is easy to miss. It is a small, understated medal that Mr. Harper said reflects the humble dignity of the men and women serving in the Canadian Forces.

"Some day, somewhere, one of those men or women will do something so brave, so gallant, so exceptional, that we will hear about it," he said. "And he or she will join the legendary cadre of the Canadian Forces who wear the pride of a nation on their chests."

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