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Remembrance Day is one of the most important days we have on our national calendar – a time, as the leaves fall and take us into winter, to reflect back on the men and women who have given it all for their country, community, family and friends.

It's a tribute to a simple truth in life: Ordinary men and women are what make a difference in the world, in big and small ways.

Nov. 11 is about remembering those who have given their lives to fight for peace, on the brutal battlefields of the First World War and all others. Laying a wreath at the National Military Cemetery – as I will do Monday – is one of the greatest honours a Canadian can be offered.

But I would also like to suggest that Remembrance Day is about more than looking back to those who have fallen. It is also about recognizing the singular quality that unified all these men and women: They were all difference makers. They were people who felt compelled to do their duty, large or small, to protect us and build a better world.

When I began trying to make a difference by propelling myself around the world almost three decades ago, to raise awareness about the potential of people with disabilities and find a cure for paralysis after spinal cord injury, I was always moved by what people said about Canada because of our veterans, perhaps our greatest ambassadors.

People remembered us as liberators, as people who made history by collectively putting their lives on the line for others. In many countries throughout the world, it was a common and moving message. Our veterans made a difference to their lives and history. They were not forgotten, and neither was Canada.

Our men and women in uniform continue to make a difference today, carrying on this wonderful Canadian tradition of putting ourselves on the line to do the right thing. As Honorary Colonel of the Canadian Forces Joint Personnel Support Unit, it's an honour to represent Canadians who have not forgotten about the disabled, wounded and ill members of our military and their families. I am inspired by the stories of these men and women who continue to overcome challenges after their public service, and are difference makers in their communities.

Like millions of Canadians, I will take a moment of silence at 11 a.m. to remember, and to thank the veterans who have defended our country and freedoms, often giving the ultimate sacrifice.

But I also invite you during that moment of contemplation to ask why Remembrance Day is such a vital part of our national tradition.

To me the answer is simple. As a nation, we intuitively know that a great society is based on a shared understanding – and dare I say the shared duty – of every citizen to be a difference maker. It is our collective attempt at making a difference, in whatever way, that makes a better Canada. And a better world.

Our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line to be difference makers. And every time we pin on a poppy, we acknowledge that their sense of honour and sacrifice made a difference that isn't forgotten.

Rick Hansen is founder of the Rick Hansen Foundation. In 2012, he was among the first to be honoured in Canada Post's Difference Maker stamp series.