Name: Adrienne Clarkson
Country of Origin: Hong Kong
Moved to Canada: 1942
Journey in one word: Phenomenal!
Our September Immigrant of the Month is charismatic elder stateswoman, Adrienne Clarkson who got into public consciousness decades ago, at a time when visible minorities were almost incognito in Canada.
Adrienne Louise Clarkson was born on February 10, 1939, in Hong Kong to Ethel and William Poy. The family fled Hong Kong in 1941 after the Japanese invasion and came to Canada the following year with refugee status granted under special circumstances. Clarkson was raised in Ottawa where her family chose to settle in. She bagged an Honors BA at the University of Toronto, in 1960 and an MA in English Literature in 1962. Adrienne recalls her early life while trying to flee Hong Kong as one lived from basement to basement. She says without hesitation that she owes everything to Canada after all, she was a penniless refugee who became an accomplished journalist, the 26th Governor General of Canada, an award-winning and bestselling author and a role model for women and children everywhere.
She went on to veer into print journalism (she wrote for Chatelaine and Maclean’s magazines). She wrote both fiction and nonfiction titles – A Lover More Condoling (1968), Hunger Trace (1970) and Room for Us All (2011). Adrienne also put together a collection of interviews on the subject of marriage and divorce.
While Adrienne may have made an impact as a journalist, it only seemed to have been the launching pad of her career as a politician/public figure. Adrienne Clarkson was appointed as Ontario’s first Agent-General in Paris, a position that required her to promote Ontario’s business and cultural interests in France, Italy and Spain for five years.
Her Appointments and Awards
- Governor-General of Canada by Queen Elizabeth II (1999-2005)
- Colonel-in-chief of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2007)
- Chancellor and Principal Companion of the Order of Canada (1999)
- Companion, Order of Canada (2003)
- Chancellor, Commander, Order of Merit of the Police Forces (1999)
- Chancellor, Commander, Order of Military Merit (1999)
- Member, Queen’s Privy Council for Canada (2005)
- Order of Friendship, Russian Federation (2006)
- 32 honorary doctorates from universities, including the University of Ottawa, University of Prince Edward Island, Queen’s University, Acadia University, Dalhousie University, Lakehead University and University of Western Ontario.
- Honorary Fellow, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, Trinity College at the University of Toronto, The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, and the Royal Society of Canada.
- Best Public Affairs Broadcaster, ACTRA (1976)
- Grandmother of Many Tribes
- Chairman, Board of the Canadian Museum of History
- Member, The United Nations Association in Canada (UNA-Canada) Committee for the Pearson Prize Medal
- Colonel-in-Chief of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI)
- Grand Cross of the Order of Pleiades from France (2001)
- The Giller Prize for Literature (Canada’s most prestigious English-Language fiction award)
- The Gold Medal for Architecture given by the Royal Architectural Institute
- The Man Asian Literary Prize (based in Hong kong)
- Glenn Gould Prize, and many more
- the first racialized person appointed to the vice-regal position.
- the first person of Asian heritage to be a vice-regal.
- the first without a military or political background to assume the position.
- the first racialized Canadian to headline a national program.
- the first Chinese Canadian.
- a member of the team that conceived and brought forth the Fifth Estate magazine show in 1975. The show clocked 40 in 2015.
- the first Canadian to be Colonel-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces
- the only Canadian to be honored with the Order of Friendship of the Russian Federation.
In 2004, Massey College which is the graduate college of the University of Toronto, instituted the Clarkson’s Laureateship for Public Service to be awarded annually to three post-graduate fellows.
Madame Adrienne Clarkson may have paved the way for members of the immigrant community in Canada. Her outstanding and phenomenal achievements put the spotlight on immigrants as progressive members of Canadian society. Today, it is a common rhetoric that immigrants are major contributors to the Canadian economy. Given the chance, she has proved and continues to prove that immigrants are the future for Canada. One of her major advocacies is acceptance – that people need to acknowledge that there are other citizens with backgrounds different than their own and that these differences need to be included in citizenship.
After her 5-year stint as Governor-General of Canada, Adrienne, with her husband, co-founded the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC). The institute helps to fast track the acculturation of new Canadian citizens into life in Canada so they can be fully integrated and contribute their quota to the development of the Canadian society. A notable achievement of ICC is the Cultural Access Pass (CAP), which provides the platform for new citizens and up to four family members to enter more than 1,400 cultural institutions, national and provincial parks for free for one year from the date of their citizenship. In addition, CAP members receive 50% off the lowest train fare for country-wide rides for one year. ICC’s 6 Degrees Citizen Space was launched in Toronto. 6 Degrees Citizen Space is an annual global forum on citizenship, immigration, inclusion, and diversity in the 21st century. The body’s activities are premised upon the belief that immigration, and citizenship of immigrants will pave the way for a more prosperous and egalitarian world.
Room for All of Us is another valuable contribution of Clarkson to the immigrant community in Canada. Room for All of Us is an insightful narrative that tells the stories of Canadian immigrant experience. The book showcases Canada’s robust immigrant past and present.
Adrienne is married to writer John Ralston Saul and has two children and four grandchildren.
It is mind blowing that Adrienne Clarkson, once a refugee, was once the representative of the Queen here in Canada. Madame Adrienne is one immigrant that we are proud to present as a role model to The Immigrant Life community as a proof that we all can rise beyond any conceivable limitation and thrive. Indeed, what the mind can envision, the hands can achieve.