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A quilt and a service medal: Timmins woman honoured in Ottawa

Quilts for Survivors founder Vanessa Génier receives Governor General's Meritorious Service Decoration
Vanessa Génier presented a quilt to Govenor General Mary Simon after receiving a meritorious service medal in Ottawa on May 8.

Bringing comfort to residential school survivors is garnering more national accolades for a Timmins woman.

Vanessa Génier, the founder of Quilts for Survivors, said the experience of accepting a meritorious service medal from Governor General Mary Simon on May 8  started in an Ottawa cab ride.

“Even talking to the cab driver that we’re going to Rideau Hall, and he was like, no you can’t, and we had to tell him we had invitations,” she said. 

Génier found out in January that she was one of the 2024 recipients of Meritorious Service Decoration, which recognizes exceptional deeds or activities that bring honour to an individual’s community or Canada. Issues like education, poverty, and awareness campaigns have all been tackled by past recipients.

RELATED: Timmins woman's work catches governor general's attention

The group of honourees at the ceremony was an incredible group of people to meet, said Génier.

“You’re in the room for about an hour, just talking to the other recipients, finding out who they are, what they’ve done to be honoured, and that was really cool. I met some really cool people,” she said. “Then they lined us up, and we walked into a room full of people, and they’re all standing and clapping.”

Many of the 71 honourees had been waiting for several years for their award. It is the largest group the governor general’s office has hosted. 

“It was just unbelievable, hearing all these things these people have done. I was just in awe of these people,” she said. “Because they’ve found ways to use bone marrow and cells, and I’m going, ‘I make quilts’, so it’s sort of surreal that you’re in a room at the same time, being honoured with all these other people.”

Génier said it’s hard to fathom how her work has spread and grown.

“To have the work that we’re doing on the same level as these other things because, for me, it’s just about the quilts,” she said. “I can’t think about the full terms of where we’ve come because I would just sit here in awe for hours a day.”

After receiving her award, Génier presented Simon with a quilt.

“I asked how do you present a gift to the governor general, and they said, you don’t,” she said. 

She explained how quilts are usually presented, including how the quilts are wrapped around the recipient and the importance of the ceremony around the presentation.

Génier got a call back from one of her staff, who said they would make it work. 

“To have her be so grateful for her quilt and to understand the meaning behind all of these quilts and for her to get one of our quilts was really cool and just unbelievable,” she said. “I think her being an Indigenous woman, she gets it a little more.”

The trip also gave Génier a chance to meet some of the Quilts for Survivors volunteers in Ottawa.

“They threw us a potluck dinner, and we just had a really great time,” she said.

Because of the government's history with the residential school system, having her work recognized is meaningful for Génier.

“If residential schools had succeeded, my grandparents would either have been dead, or they wouldn’t have been Indigenous, and they wouldn’t have taught their kids anything about being Indigenous,” she said. “We wouldn’t have been members of Missanabie Cree First Nation.”

She said she never expected to have the chance to meet and be recognized with the other honourees.

“It’s hard to believe we went there,” she said. “Just to be among these very admirable people was just amazing, and to think, when you break it down to just fabric and thread, but it’s a very simplistic idea, and to be honoured for that, just means a lot.”

Amanda Rabski-McColl, LJI Reporter

About the Author: Amanda Rabski-McColl, LJI Reporter

Amanda Rabski-McColl is a Diversity Reporter under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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