The Hamilton Community Foundation has been given the privilege of safeguarding the rich history and perpetuating the memory of the Royal Canadian Humane Association, a national organization established in Hamilton in 1894. Modeled on the Royal Humane Society of Great Britain, the RCHA’s mandate was to recognize and honour acts of heroism and bravery in the saving of human life. Over its 107-year history, the Association awarded more than 6,000 medals and citations to individuals across the country.
RCHA was founded by Adam Brown, often referred to as Hamilton’s “Grand Old Man”. He so loved and believed in the Association that he stayed on for 30 years and celebrated his 100th birthday while still in office. Through his efforts, Queen Victoria approved the use of the word “Royal” in the Association’s name. In addition to this distinction, RCHA medals were among very few decorations that could be worn on the armed forces uniform.
Initially, the RCHA had a much broader focus as it also worked toward the prevention of cruelty to children and animals. Gradually, these roles were assumed by the Children’s Aid Society and the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In time, the Association found itself competing with bravery awards bestowed by the Government of Canada – the Cross of Valour, Star of Courage and Medal of Bravery which are presented by the Governor-General at Rideau Hall – as well as the country’s police and fire departments. With a decline in nominees and criteria that were virtually the same as the government awards, RCHA decided that more than one national program was no longer needed.
“We did not have the prestige or the funds to collect information on nominees in the way the Governor General’s office can. We have never been a large organization and we’re volunteer-driven, so we can’t compete, “explained Sheila Scott, who joined the Association in 1975. “We had to find a way to leave a record of the Association’s work and a memorial to the people who started it.
In 2000, the board of governors decided to surrender the Association’s charter and transfer the remaining assets to the Hamilton Community Foundation. With the help of an advisory committee, the Foundation will honour RCHA’s original intent by making awards for outstanding acts of citizenship and bravery by citizens of Hamilton and Burlington.
Richard McLaren, great grandson of the first treasurer and fourth generation to serve on the board, said, “this is a good solution to a difficult situation. My family would have been pleased.”
Excerpt from the 2000-2001 Annual Report