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What is St. John's Day?

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The Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem originated in a hospice founded around 1070 to care for pilgrims, which was dedicated to St. John the Baptist. The feast of John the Baptist falls on 24 June and as such, is widely recognized as St. John's Day. A Grand Priory of the Order was established in London (United Kingdom) in 1831 and was granted a Royal Charter by Queen Victoria in 1888. They had founded an eye hospital in Jerusalem in 1882. They had already set up St. John Ambulance to train people in first aid in 1877 and ten years later, their volunteers were organized into a uniformed Brigade to serve at public events. The Canadian Branch of the Order began informally in 1883, when the inaugural first aid course was held in Québec City. In 1895, the Grand Priory authorized the establishment of a branch of the St. John Ambulance Association in Canada, which was later elevated to the status of a Priory in 1946. In 1910 and 1911, a major reorganization took place whereby Provincial Councils were established in every province in Canada responsible for administering existing centres and promoting the creation of new ones. With this newfound growth, in 1911 the creation of a Canadian District of the Brigade Overseas took place. This overseas brigade took on an international role during the two World Wars with its involvement with the Voluntary Aid Detachments.

St. John Canada (Priory of Canada) is the second largest establishment in the Order of St. John, following the Priory of England and supports the mission of the Order of St. John through the work carried out by the St. John Ambulance Foundation and the St. John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem, a leading health care and research facility, through donations and contributions from St. John Councils. St. John Ambulance continues to be in the forefront of providing first aid training and medical assistance to people in need. Today, St. John Canada issues approximately 550,000 certificates in first aid and CPR to Canadians each year. Their volunteers provide over one million volunteer hours of community services annually and the organization supports humanitarian relief efforts across Canada and around the world. Currently Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (1926 – ) is the Sovereign Head of the Order of St. John – formally known as the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem – and His Royal Highness Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester (1944 – ) is the Grand Prior of the Order. Located on the left of the composite photograph is part of a stained glass window depicting the Badge of the Order of St. John which consists of a true Maltese cross -- an eight-pointed cross -- embellished in each of its principal angles with lions and unicorns, a lion being in the top left and bottom right angles. The stained-glass window was created in 1898 for the home of Mr. And Mrs. John Heney in Ottawa. The original window contained the family coat of arms. During the 1940's St. John Ambulance established National Headquarters in the house and the coat of arms was changed to the Badge of the Order of St. John. However, with the outcome of the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s annual St. John’s Day celebrations are held virtual.

While St. John's Day is officially held on 24 June, for practical reasons, St. John Canada normally plan several activities the Saturday immediately preceding this date. National events are held in Ottawa – the nation's capital – with other local events held throughout the country. As shown on the right of the composite photograph, the day begins with a Service of Remembrance at the National War Memorial at 11 a.m. This wreath laying service is to honour the memory of the hundred of St. John Ambulance volunteers who served as members of the Voluntary Aid Detachment in both World Wars, as well as those members of the Canadian Armed Forces who served in subsequent international areas of conflict, including Afghanistan and those who are serving today. A National Investiture Ceremony normally takes place in the Senate of Canada immediately following the commemorative event. This is where some of the recipients are invested into the Order of St. John in recognition of their volunteerism and contributions to the humanitarian work of the Order. Finally, the day concludes with a Black dinner at a distinguished venue within the nation's capital.

On this day, 24 June 2021, we celebrate St. John's Day, recognize all those volunteers and staff world-wide who help all those who are in need through sickness, distress, suffering and danger, without distinction of nationality or religious belief and mark more than 126 years since a branch of St. John Ambulance was established in Canada and nearly 75 years since its elevation to the status of a Priory.

André M. Levesque

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