Dave Morrison has received one of the highest honours the country of Japan can bestow for his years of work with the city's ambassador program and the Pacific island nation.
The former city alderman and chair of the city's international relations committee was officially presented with the government of Japan's 2019 Autumn Imperial Decoration, entitled the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays.
"The reality is that I'm somewhat awestruck by this entire situation," said Morrison, who added he was "incredibly privileged and humbled" by the award.
The presentation was made by Takako Ito, consul-general of Japan in Toronto, on behalf of Japanese emperor Naruhito.
"It's so important to talk about Japan and Canada, especially from the point of Japan as Canada is a great partner," Ito said. "Japan and Canada share a common vision for a more prosperous and peaceful world."
Barrie has a long-standing relationship with Murayama, Japan, which is one of our friendship cities. For the ambassdors program, it alternates each year with either a youth delegation coming to Barrie or one going to Murayama, which is a city of around 25,000 people and located approximately 400 kilometres north of Tokyo.
Morrison has been involved with the ambassadors program for a quarter-century and has helped hundreds of students see what Japan has to offer.
"Just as the old line says that it takes a village to raise a child, I think it is equally true that it takes a community to build a partnership," Morrison said.
The Order of the Rising Sun was created in 1875 by the emperor of Japan. Gold and Silver Rays is a fifth-class designation.
"This is a very, very special recognition," said Mayor Jeff Lehman, who said Morrison continues to foster the relationship between the two cities, "one which obviously continues to grow and flourish."
Morrison thanked Ito for the award, but extended his gratitude to the many others behind the program.
"Although I have possession of it and I'm very grateful and honoured for that, I truly believe that this award is to the city of Barrie and the international relations committee, as well as to all of those people who have served in a variety of capacities over the 25 years that we've been building this relationship with Japan," he said.
Morrison singled out people like former mayor Janice Laking, who was in attendance last night, and other politicians who have helped grow the bond between the two nations over the years.
"The last person I want to mention, quite honestly, deserves this medal far more than I do and far more than anyone in this community, and there are lots of deserving people," he said. "Unfortunately, she has passed away, but my partner in crime with the foundation of this was a woman by the name of Sandra Purchase."
Purchase died in 2011 following a long battle with cancer.
"She was perhaps the most extraordinary individual I've ever met. She was the queen of culture in this," Morrison said. "I may have been organizing, politicking, fundraising and doing all of that, but she was the one who taught me everything that was possible in the time we had together in running these youth groups.
"She was the one who taught me about culture and its significance."
Ito highlighted some of the similarities (rule of law and technology) and differences (such as the stark difference in land mass and population) between the two nations, as well as reminding people about the upcoming Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which will bring Japan into the global spotlight from July 24 to Aug. 9, followed by the Paralympics.
Ito said the Olympics will be an opportunity for Japan to show the world it has recovered from the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami which killed more than 10,000 people and caused around $360 billion (US) in damage.
Barrie will be sending a youth delegation to Murayama this summer.
Morrison said it's programs such as this that can help make the world a better place.
"If we are serious about anti-racism and anti-discrimination, cultural diversity and all the things that make us special, what make us human, then there is no more important thing that we can do than to reach out to other communities with our youth and show them the world beyond our borders," he said.
"You know what they'll learn? They'll learn that people are people and that's the most important gift we can give them and why, quite honestly, I've enjoyed every second of what I've being doing for the last 25 years with youth ambassadors and the international relations committee."