York University honorary governor Helen Vari (LLD [Hons.] ’03), honorary degree recipients Lloyd Axworthy (LLD [Hons.] ’15), Jack Cockwell (LLD [Hons.] ’01), Wade Davis (LLD [Hons.] ’14) and Rohinton Mistry (DLitt [Hons.] ’03), and York alumni Joseph Boyden (BA ’91), Rudy Buttignol (BFA ’82), Barbara Hall (LLB ’78), Fiona Amaryllis Sampson (DJur ’05) and Faye Thomson (BFA ’77) are among the 69 Canadians to be honoured with Canada’s highest civilian honour – the Order of Canada.
The new appointees include six companions (C.C.), 14 officers (O.C.) and 49 new members (C.M.). The names of the 69 individuals to receive the honour were made on the recommendation of the Advisory Council for the Order of Canada and announced Dec. 30, 2015, by the Office of the Governor General of Canada.
An honorary member of the Board of Governors of York University and a recipient of an honorary doctor of laws degree from York University in 2003, Helen Vari was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for “her philanthropic and volunteer contributions, and for her extensive service to educational, cultural and social initiatives.” A lifelong supporter of education, Vari spent her early years in Hungary prior to travelling to Canada where she met and married her late husband George Vari. The couple established the engineering and construction company SEFRI Construction International. Their strong belief in the power of education led to the establishment in 1984 of the Vari Foundation, which has helped students at many Canadian educational institutions with scholarships, as well as support for teaching programs and financial gifts. York University’s Vari Hall is named for the couple.
Lloyd Axworthy was promoted to Companion of the Order of Canada for “his principled contributions to international human rights and for his leadership in postsecondary education, particularly in support of Aboriginal students.” Axworthy has had a distinguished career as a Member of Parliament, a cabinet minister and, most recently, as the president and vice-chancellor of the University of Winnipeg. Among his most notable contributions, he created the Royal Commission on Equity in Employment while he was minister of employment and immigration. Later, as foreign affairs minister, his leadership behind the Ottawa Treaty to ban anti-personnel land mines garnered him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. He has gone on to advocate for international human rights. In 2014, he was installed as the first chancellor of St. Paul’s University College at the University of Waterloo. In 2015, York University bestowed an honorary doctor of laws degree on Axworthy.
Jack Cockwell was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for “his civic engagement in the areas of education, conservation and history.” He serves as the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman at Partners Limited. In 2001, the Schulich School of Business honoured Cockwell with a Doctor of Laws degree. As a business strategist, Cockwell has played a leading role over the past 35 years in the development of numerous prestigious office properties, hydroelectric power dams, base metal mines and forest product mills in North and South America and in the process, helped build one of Canada’s largest industrial groups. A strong believer in continuing education, Cockwell played an active role at Ryerson University for a number of years as a member of its Board of Governors and as campaign chair for The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education.
A recipient of an honorary doctor of laws degree from York University in 2014, Wade Davis is professor of Anthropology and the BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia. He was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for his efforts to promote conservation and for his work as a writer and scholar. Between 1999 and 2013 he served as Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society and is currently a member of the NGS Explorers Council. Named by the NGS as one of the Explorers for the Millennium, he has been described as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity.” An ethnographer, writer, photographer and filmmaker, Davis spent over three years in the Amazon and Andes as a plant explorer, living among 15 indigenous groups in eight Latin American nations while making some 6,000 botanical collections. Davis is the author of 240 scientific and popular articles and 17 books.
The recipient of an honorary doctor of letters degree from York University in 2003, Rohinton Mistry was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for “his acclaimed work as an author of international renown.” His first collection of short stories, Tales From the Firozsha Baag, was published in 1987. In 1991, he published his first novel Such a Long Journey, which was awarded the Governor General’s Literary Award, the W. H. Smith/ Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best Book. Such a Long Journey was also short-listed for the Booker Prize. A Fine Balance was published in 1995. It won the Giller Prize, the Royal Society of Literature’s Winfried Holtby Prize, and the 1996 Los Angeles Times Award for fiction. It was also short listed for the Booker Prize. Family Matters was published in 2002 and was short listed for the Booker Prize. In 2008, Mistry published The Scream, illustrated by Tony Urquhart, a limited edition publication to benefit by World Literacy of Canada. Mistry won the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 2012.
Winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize for his second novel, Through Black Spruce, York University alumnus Joseph Boyden (BA ’91) is a graduate of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. He was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada for “his contributions as an author, who tells stories of our common heritage, and for his social engagement, notably in support of First Nations.” Boyden’s novel The Orenda, won Canada Reads and was nominated for a Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. A novelist and short-story writer, Boyden is of Irish, Scottish and Métis descent and the son of a highly decorated medical officer of the Second World War (Raymond Wilfrid Boyden). As an author, Boyden became widely known in Canada following the publication of his first novel, Three Day Road, which was selected for the Today Show’s book club and won various awards. It was also short listed for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. Boyden has also written non-fiction works, including Extraordinary Canadians: Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont and From Mushkegowuk to New Orleans: A Mixed Blood Highway. He divides his time between Northern Ontario and Louisiana.
A graduate of the School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design, Rudy Buttignol (BFA ’82) is a Canadian television network executive and entrepreneur. He is the president and CEO of British Columbia’s Knowledge Network, BC’s public broadcaster and is also president of Canadian subscription television channel BBC Kids. Buttignol was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for “his contributions as a champion of Canadian documentary filmmaking and for his transformative leadership at the Knowledge Network.” Buttignol’s career spans more than four decades. At the beginning of his career, he worked as an independent producer, director, writer and editor of documentary and children’s programs, and later as a commissioning editor, television programmer, and broadcast executive. From 1975 to 1993, Buttignol worked as an independent filmmaker creating film and video works. In 1993, Buttignol began work as a public broadcaster when he joined TVOntario as commissioning editor and creative head of independent production. In 2004, he shared the Gemini’s Donald Brittain Award with documentary filmmaker Allan King for Dying at Grace (2003). In 2007, Buttignol was awarded the inaugural Hot Docs’ Doc Mogul Award. In total, Buttignol is the recipient of nine Gemini Awards from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television.
The former mayor of the City of Toronto, York alumna Barbara Hall (LLB ’78) was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for “her human rights leadership and for her commitment to public service.” A graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School, Hall is a Canadian lawyer, public servant and former politician. She was the 61st mayor of Toronto, the last to run before amalgamation. She was elected mayor of the pre-amalgamation City of Toronto in 1994, and held office until Dec. 31, 1997. On Nov. 28, 2005, Hall was appointed chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. After having her term extended four times, she retired Feb. 27, 2015, after almost a decade in the position. On July 17, 2014, a city park in Toronto’s Church and Wellesley neighbourhood was renamed in her honour. On March 16, 2015, Hall was appointed by the provincial government to chair a seven-member panel that will conduct public consultations to review the governance of the Toronto District School Board.
Osgoode Hall Law School alumna Fiona Sampson (DJur ’05) was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for “her commitment to human rights, particularly those of women and girls in Africa.” Sampson is a human rights lawyer and the founder of The Equality Effect, a non-profit organization based in Toronto. The organization uses international human rights law to work on behalf of girls and women, its main focus is the protection of girls and women in sub-Saharan Africa from rape. In May 2013, Sampson and her team secured a victory in Kenya when the country’s highest court found the government was guilty in failing to protect girls from rape. In addition to her role as executive director of The Equality Effect, Sampson serves as an appointed member of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. An experienced litigation lawyer, she has appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada representing various women’s NGOs in equality rights cases. She was appointed an Ashoka Fellow, named the 2014 Lawyer of the Year by the New York State Bar Association, named one of Canada’s Top 25 Lawyers and is one of 50 “Global Heroes” working to end violence against children, along with among others, Queen Noor and Hillary Clinton.
Faye Thomson (BFA ’77) is a contemporary dancer of national significance. Thomson, a graduate of the School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design. With collaborator Odette Heyn, the duo were appointed Members of the Order of Canada for “their contributions to contemporary dance in Canada and to the development of the next generation of Canadian dancers.” In 1983, Heyn and Thomson founded the Professional Program of The School of Contemporary Dancers. Since that time, the Professional Program has made significant contributions to the contemporary dance arts community and the cultural fabric of Canada. Working in a partnership for over 30 years, they are the longest serving directors of a national professional dance training program in Canada. Thomson has performed with Stephanie Ballard and Dancers, Rachel Browne, and Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers including with Tedd Robinson. She continues to serve as rehearsal director for Stephanie Ballard and Dancers for several projects, and has recently been rehearsal director for works presented by NAfro Dance Productions and Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers including for the Rachel Browne Tribute Tour. She studied and performed in South Indian Classical Dance for many years under the direction of Menaka Thakkar, including an acclaimed 1984/85 performance tour of India. For several years, she served as a member of the board of directors of the Winnipeg Arts Council and as a member of the Manitoba Arts Advisory Panel and continues to serve as a juror/assessor.