July 23rd, 2024

Musicians and magicians: Avril Lavigne, David Ben among Order of Canada appointees

By Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press on June 27, 2024.

Avril Lavigne attends the Elie Saab Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection presented in Paris, Wednesday, June 26, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Christophe Ena

When David Ben learned he would be appointed to the Order of Canada, his mind immediately went to the great magicians who received the honour before him.

“It was quite an emotional moment for me because it brought back lots of memories of all the many people who have taken great interest in my life and helped me along the way who were also members of the Order of Canada,” said Ben.

His is one of 83 new appointments to the Order of Canada announced Thursday, along with pop-punk star Avril Lavigne, former Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz and longtime journalist Joyce Napier, who was recently appointed Canada’s new ambassador to the Vatican.

Lavigne, who rose to fame as a teenager with hits such as “Complicated” and “Sk8er Boi,” joins a long list of entertainers who have been named to the Order. The Napanee, Ont.-born singer-songwriter was also inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame last year.

Also on the list of Canadians deemed to have made extraordinary contributions to the nation are artists, activists and academics.

Cree actress, producer and advocate Tina Keeper of Winnipeg, who will also be named a member of the Order of Canada, is taking the honour as a chance to reflect on her roots.

“My late father, who just passed last year at the age of 94, was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1992,” she said. “It feels like a very special honour for me.”

Her father, Joseph Irvine Keeper, was a founder of the Manitoba Métis Federation.

He blazed a trail she’s proud to follow, said the 62-year-old Keeper.

Keeper is perhaps best known for starring in the 1990s CBC drama “North of 60,” but was also a member of Parliament in the mid-aughts, and has since moved to producing, including the CTV comedy “Acting Good.”

“I’m grateful for all these opportunities I’ve had to be part of partnerships in trying to move Canada along into reconciliation,” she said. “That has always been important. It was important to my parents.”

Also on the list is U.S.-Canadian submersible expert Patrick Lahey, the first deaf NHL player Jim Kyte, and Christi Belcourt, a Métis visual artist, environmentalist and social justice advocate who devotes much of her time to supporting Indigenous language revitalization. Many of her intricate artworks can be found in public art collections across North America, Rideau Hall said.

Singer-songwriter Daniel Lavoie, best known for his hit song “Ils s’aiment,” and Pierre Chastenay, a trained astronomer and host of Télé-Québec’s popular TV show “Le code Chastenay” are among the inductees from Quebec.

As for Ben, he says he’s proud to be among several magicians who have been invited to the Order of Canada over the years, noting that includes several accomplished Canadians who dabbled in the art but are famous for other reasons.

The late philanthropist Allan Slaight, who was invested as a member in 2001, started his career as a magician before making his fortune in radio, while broadcaster Patrick Watson – a companion of the Order of Canada – co-wrote and directed several productions with Ben.

“Unbeknownst to most people, the 20th century – as far as magic goes internationally – was really Canada’s century. The greatest magicians, the ones who had the greatest impact on the evolution of magic as a performing art or craft were Canadian,” said the 63-year-old Ben.

The Governor General’s office, in announcing Ben’s appointment, lauded his work preserving the history of magic.

“I befriended so many octogenarians when I was in my youth that I represent sort of a bridge between multiple generations,” Ben said.

Ben recalled meeting one such mentor, a septuagenarian, when he was just 18.

“I literally was invited back to his home every weekend for a number of years, where he just passed on his knowledge so that it would not disappear. It would live for future generations. And so I’ve sort of embarked on a similar path.”

A balance must be struck, Ben said, when it comes to passing on magicians’ knowledge. Much of it has been lost, he said, because of the competitive nature of early sleight-of-hand artists.

“One of my fortes is reconstructing long-lost secrets from my predecessors,” said Ben, who shares his secrets for free with magicians who fly in from around the world to meet him in his home in Toronto – if he feels they’re ready to learn.

“One of the measuring sticks is, you can tell if someone is ready for the knowledge…by the questions they ask.”

This year’s class of honourees will be invested into the Order at ceremonies in the coming months.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2024.

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