Chris Hadfield was the first Canadian to walk in space, and now a star has come to him.
The former astronaut, who commanded the International Space Station from December 2012 to May 2013 and flew two separate Space Shuttle missions, was honoured on Tuesday with a Canada’s Walk of Fame Hometown Star celebration at Sarnia’s Bayshore Park. The event also tied in with his 60th birthday, which falls Aug. 29. It was MC’d by Dragons’ Den star David Chilton, featured a speech by Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley and poet Wali Shah along with performances by Walk of Fame inductee Andy Kim and Sarnia musician Emm Gryner.
Chris has no shortage of accolades thanks to his incredible achievements. Sarnia’s airport is named after him, as is one of Milton, Ont.’s streets and one of its parks. He called the star a “delightful recognition” of his work in a conversation with HELLO! Canada.
“Well, I feel unworthy. I mean, part of it I guess is what constitutes fame, right?” Chris said when asked how he felt about the honour. He said he never really thought of himself as a celebrity or star.
“I just tried to pursue the things that I thought were really worthwhile in life and that would contribute and would help push back the edges of what we don’t understand,” he humbly continued. “And I try and push myself to the absolute limits of my own abilities to try and do those things.”
Chris became beloved by millions during his ISS command thanks to his zero gravity reworking of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and his collaboration with Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies. His keen understanding of social media saw many of his scientific videos for the Canadian Space Agency go viral during this period.
Like many kids, Chris dreamed about being an astronaut from an early age. His lifelong passion for learning and pushing himself to expand his own understanding (and that of others) began as a child at King George VI elementary school in Sarnia. He said that’s why he’s chosen it for the location of his Hometown Star.
“I remember standing holding on to the chain link fence, just wishing I was old enough to be able to go to school and start learning like my big brother was,” Chris told HELLO! Canada. “So I think it’d be a really nice place for the star to go.”
After completing high school in Oakville, Ont. and Milton, Ont., Chris joined the Canadian Armed Forces and spent two years at Royal Roads Military College and another two at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., where he graduated with a mechanical engineering degree in 1982. He trained as a fighter pilot, and went on to intercept Soviet bombers for NORAD. Later in the 1980s, he worked testing aircraft for the US military.
In 1992, he was one of four Canadian astronauts – including Governor General Julie Payette – to be selected by the Canadian Space Agency. In his work with NASA, he went on to be the mission control voice for 25 different Space Shuttle missions, became the only Canadian ever to board Russian space station Mir, and travelled 10 times around the world during one of his 2001 space walks, meaning he’s probably done more travelling than any other Canadian! As mentioned, he went on to command the ISS.
But it all comes back to that first school, he said.
“The teacher that I had in kindergarten and grade one and grade two there, I was just one of the many kids that they were trying to give a good lesson to and trying to give a good set of values to,” he continued. “And I think it's really nice to thank them and to thank the teachers that are at the school now and the principal.”
The Walk of Fame launched its new Hometown Stars program in 2017. It is intended to provide all inductees with the additional opportunity to give back to their home communities and have a plaque mounted in a location of their or their family’s choice. CEO Jeffrey Latimer said it’s part of the Walk of Fame’s new mission to be a national platform instead of one centred on Toronto.
“We thought if we can go to the hometowns and meet some of the people and coaches and teachers, mentors, business people, people that gave people their first job, and learn more about what the water, if you will, would make a difference,” Jeffrey told HELLO! Canada.
All inductees are also provided with $10,000 to donate to a cause of their choice. Chris has chosen Access Open Minds, a Canadian research initiative about the mental health of children and youth, which Jeffrey said is opening a centre in Sarnia. Canadian golfer Mike Weir has agreed to match the donation.
Chris’s commitment to lifelong learning and the work he does with children and youth is part of why he was chosen by the Walk of Fame, Jeffrey explained. Chris teaches at the University of Waterloo and also helms online master classes in the hopes of imparting his knowledge to others and inspiring young people on their own journeys toward and in learning. In fact, while he was on the phone with HELLO! Canada, two “little people and their mom” came to his door with a picture of the planets and moons, which they gave to him as a gift.
“I have been a student my whole life and I love everything that goes into learning,” Chris told HELLO! Canada. “I'm still a student. You know, as an astronaut you are essentially a full time student for your entire adult life, studying and learning and getting ready for the things that are going to come.
“If you can help kids get inspired and interested in reading and learning and the world that lies beyond their normal horizons right from the start then ... you've probably made a far better investment of your own time and almost anything else you could do.”