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Honouring the brave and the bold

Philippe Jacques-Bélair, left, and Alden Yale Henry are two Canadians who received the Medal of Bravery this year for their acts of heroism.

christinne muschi The Globe and Mail (left); sgt. ronald duchesne/rideau hall

Alden Yale Henry – Quick thinking and the courage to act saved a life

As he worked away on his car at the high school auto shop, 17-year-old Alden Yale Henry decided to go outside for a brief break with a friend who wanted to smoke a cigarette. The friend had mentioned to Mr. Yale Henry that he had been threatened lately by another student.

It was October, 2010. The two friends chatted, when all of a sudden the other student showed up. Not wanting to cause friction, his friend said hello. But in a flash, the boy lunged at Mr. Yale Henry's friend and attacked.

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"I couldn't see what the guy was holding at first until he had pushed my friend down and started going for my friend's back," Mr. Yale Henry recalls.

"That's when I saw there was a knife."

He could have ran for help, but Mr. Yale Henry says he felt the need to intervene immediately. Grabbing the similar-sized assailant from behind in a bear hug, Mr. Yale Henry pulled him off his friend.

"I picked him up and carried him away from my friend and I didn't let go. I wouldn't stop squeezing until he let go of the knife."

Eventually, the attacker dropped the knife and Mr. Yale Henry let him go. The attacker ran away but was later caught by police.

Mr. Yale Henry rushed to see if his friend was okay. "I helped him up and he said, 'I think I got nicked.' He turned around and his back was soaked in blood."

Once again, Mr. Yale Henry's instincts took over. While he directed other students to call 9-1-1 and search for the knife, which had been lost when the attacker tossed it, Mr. Yale Henry tore off his friend's shirt, quickly found the wound and applied pressure while waiting for paramedics to arrive. He remained calm, even as his friend began to go into shock.

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When the ambulance arrived, his friend was rushed to hospital.

"Later on, I found out that I had prevented his lung from collapsing because I kept pressure on it and if his lung had collapsed there is a good possibility that he wouldn't have made it."

Two years later, Mr. Yale Henry, 20, has been recognized for his quick-thinking and courage with a Medal of Bravery. He says he is very honoured, but insists anybody would do the same for a friend.

Though they remain friends to this day, Mr. Yale Henry says they never speak about the fact that he saved his life two years ago.

"We both knew what happened," Mr. Yale Henry says. "We both knew how we felt."

Editor's note: Alden Yale Henry's last name was incorrectly stated at Henry. Also the incident did not take place in 2011. This version has been corrected.

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Philippe Jacques-Bélair – Jumping in while others looked on

University student Philippe Jacques-Bélair was hanging out in a Montreal park with a friend on an unseasonably mild April day in 2011 when they heard some shouting.

"We didn't make much of it," Mr. Jacques-Bélair recalls. "We thought it was children playing."

But then a young woman came running up to them, screaming that a woman and her child were in the river that flows through Parc de la Visitation. Dashing to the riverbank, Mr. Jacques-Bélair spied the bodies of a woman and her five-year-old child floating face down in the frigid water. A small crowd had gathered, but aside from a few failed attempts to reach the bodies from shore with branches, everyone stayed on the riverbank.

"I remember there was someone taking pictures," he says. "I thought that was pretty disgusting."

Instructing the others to call an ambulance, Mr. Jacques-Bélair, who was then 22 years old, shook off his jacket and waded into the water in just his T-shirt and pants. The other onlookers didn't help, he says. In fact, they tried to discourage him from his attempt. "People were like, 'It's too late.'"

He says now that he didn't think about his own safety or the risk involved. He was running on adrenalin and instinct.

"I just couldn't stand to see that and do nothing," he says. "I couldn't live with myself if I had done nothing."

He pulled the woman and child from the water. As others attempted to resuscitate them, the young man spied what he thought was a bundle of clothing in the water and jumped back in to fetch it.

It wasn't clothes, though – it was a three-month-old baby.

Amid the chaos, paramedics arrived and whisked the mother, children and Mr. Jacques-Bélair to the hospital. While the woman and her oldest child died, the baby survived.

Now 25 years old and finishing up his degree, Mr. Jacques-Bélair was awarded a Medal of Bravery earlier this year. He has also been honoured by his home province and the local police force, but remains humble about his bravery.

"I just was there. I didn't really think it through. It just was the thing I thought was the best to do."

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