Gov. Gen. David Johnston honoured the nation’s firefighters on Sunday, thanking them for their willingness to go “the wrong way” into danger for the benefit of their communities.

He delivered his remarks at the unveiling of the new Canadian Firefighters Memorial in Ottawa, a monument intended to pay tribute to nearly 1,100 firefighters who have died in the line of duty.

In his prepared remarks, Johnston praised the firefighters’ “courage and dedication.”

He added that the fallen firefighters “represent an ideal of service and selflessness that is very rare and very precious.”

The newly built Canadian Firefighters Memorial sits at the corner of Wellington and Lett Streets, near a commemorative wall listing the names of firefighters who died while serving.

The memorial was designed by Canadian artist and author Douglas Copeland and Mary Tremain, a partner at PLANT Architect Inc.

Mary Day travelled to Ottawa with her son, Glen, to honour her husband, Archibald Hall, whose name is etched on the memorial.

“It’s hard to explain what it feels like today,” Day told CTV Ottawa as her son marvelled at the number of fallen firefighters.

“It’s amazing to see 1,100 names,” Glen said. “I can’t believe there would be that many.”

Karen Glendenning travelled from British Columbia on her motorcycle with two firefighters who worked with her late husband.

“He was a great friend, father,” she said. “Sadly, he didn’t become a grandfather until after he passed.”

The governor general spoke in Ottawa’s LeBreton Flats neighbourhood near the site of a massive fire that broke out in the spring of 1900, killing seven people. The spot is also close to the place where Captain John Lowry, an Ottawa firefighter, died while battling a blaze in 1896.

Johnston referenced these examples, pointing to the risks that accompany firefighting.

His comments came two days after a parade to honour Canadian firefighters who have died both on and off the job wound its way through Ottawa’s downtown core on Friday.

Present at the annual memorial event, now in its eleventh year, was Steve Kemp whose firefighter father died from leukemia he developed from exposure to toxic materials.

“You kind of think you're not risking your life everyday, but it was the choice that he made ages ago that really ended catching up to him and taking his life at the end,” he told CTV Ottawa.

Kemp’s story underscored a common message at the ceremony: not all firefighters die while battling fires or charging into burning buildings.

“Its risky work and I don't think people fully understand what really goes into being a firefighter,” said Kemp.

With a report from CTV Ottawa’s Norman Fetterley and Ellen Mauro