This year, nine outstanding individuals were bestowed with the Saskatchewan Order of Merit – the province's highest honour. Here's a look at seven men and two women who have made a tremendous difference in Saskatchewan.

Courtney Milne, photographer, Grandora

Courtney Milne travelled the province and the world capturing photographs that appeared in books galleries and homes.

But it was when Milne returned to his roots that he discovered a pool of possibilities.

Over a decade, Milne took 45,000 images of the pool outside his home.

The water, the wind, the light, the colors - each image is dramatic and different. It inspired Milne, and he inspired others.

"The more he looked, the more he saw. And it was really expanding what he'd call the 'edges of his seeing,'" says Milne's wife Sherrill Miller.

"He'd been photographing for 35 years and he was still seeing new things and it was in one small space."

In 2009, Milne was diagnosed with a cancer that ravaged the bones in his back and, within a few months, he was left a paraplegic.

Forced to cover his lens for good, he spent his final year on the computer, going through thousands of images he'd taken but never truly seen.

His wife says he loved every moment.

"His excitement about the world around him; his excitement about doing his work; that passion always shone through," Miller said.

Milne passed away in August 2010, while looking out in his backyard, in the province he loved so dearly.

Ruth Smillie, artistic director and CEO of the Globe Theatre, Regina

It's a leap of faith to go into any artistic career, a leap that Ruth Smillie took, knowing full well there was no other path for her.

"I do believe artists are born not made," Smillie says.

"There is a certain personality that needs to be a creative person the way many people just need oxygen. I yearned to create."

Smillie has been the artisitc director of Regina's Globe Theatre since 1998, and has transformed it into one of the country's best theatre companies.

"The feedback we hear, uniformly, from patrons is they can't believe this theatre is in this city; this little city in the middle of nowhere," Smillie says.

She travelled the world as an actor before she answered the call to come home to Saskatchewan.

Recently, Smillie launched a conservatory program that is now full. The Globe Theatre's subscribers now number 5,000 and revenue is on track to reach $3.6 million this year.

Darcy Bear, Chief of the Whitecap Dakota First Nation, Whitecap

Darcy Bear has a vision for his community. He says his goal is to free the community from a cycle of dependence on the federal government.

"Prior to European contact, we were always hard working people. Everybody played a role…We weren't dependent upon anybody else," Bear says.

"Now, how do we get back to being independent; how do we get back to being contributing citizens?"

Bear knew that to achieve independence, he needed to create a vibrant business environment on the First Nation.

He understood that businesses would only come to the First Nation if they trusted its leadership. So, Bear took dramatic steps to improve the accountability, transparency and fiscal responsibility of his administration.

"We can proudly show our audit to the financial institution; to business partners; to our community members, and it's allowed us to open our doors for all kinds of business activity," he says.

Bear, who has a business education, invested in the infrastructure needed to attract industry.

He developed a business-friendly land code on the First Nation, complete with a land tenure system and a property tax bylaw.

With all these measures secured, businesses began setting up shop in the community. The development of the Dakota Dunes Resort, Golf Links and Casino, have established a vibrant tourism industry in the community.

That new prosperity has allowed Bear's administration to build an addition to the community school and a new health centre.

Bear is planning to draft a constitution for the First Nation, so that future leaders will continue the tradition of responsible leadership.

Joseph Bourgault, president of F.P. Bourgault Tillage Tools and entrepreneur, St. Brieux

Joseph Bourgault invented a floating-hitch cultivator that contours the land, while keeping the front and rear sweeps at the same level in the ground to place the seed.

"That invention improved greatly farmers' ability to place seed very accurately," says Bourgault.

He also developed parallel-wing cultivator sweeps that last twice as long as conventional sweeps.

Bourgault played a key role in the creation of the 100-lot Lakeside Acreage development in St. Brieux.

He also opened the local Lifewise Health Centre in 1995 with the aim of providing all-natural certified organic foods, herbs and nutritional supplements, as well as health information.

"To win this award from the people of Saskatchewan, to be selected amongst many that were nominated, it's just a really great honour," Bourgault says about receiving the Order of Merit.

Ron Carson, president of Carson Energy Services, Lampman

Ron Carson grew his company, Carson Energy Services, from the ground up, beginning in Lampman in 1974.

After completing high school in Lampman, Carson worked in the area for 12 years. After that, he decided to start up his own oilfield construction company.

He says receiving the Order of Merit came as a huge surprise to him.

"It was such a surprise, it made me wonder if it was one of my friends pulling my leg," Carson says.

"Sometimes, I'm not so sure I deserve it. But someone thought I did and I'm not going to give it back, so I'll keep it."

Although Carson may not think he deserves the honour, his employees had something different to say about their boss.

"Ron definitely deserves an award like that," says Glen Miller, a 36-year employee of Carson Energy Services.

"He's just a hard worker. He's here all the time. He makes things happen. He deserves it very much."

Carson believes he was chosen to recieve the order of merit due to the company's community involvement.

Carson Energy Services has grown to employ 1,300 employees with 13 locations across Alberta, Saskatchewan and now, Manitoba.

Carson says none of the company's success could have happened without the long-term commitment of his employees.

Some may say Carson is due for retirement, especially now that the company has been sold to Flint Energy Services. He has handed over the reins of CEO, but is still the company's president.

"I still like doing what I'm doing. There's good people and the industry and it's interesting and it's a challenge," Carson says.

"I still like to come to work in the morning, so here I am."

Dr. Ed Busse, retired cardiac surgeon, Qualicum Beach, B.C.

It has been eight years since Dr. Ed Busse was last inside an operating room. Before retiring, he was the driving force behind Regina's Cardiac Surgery Unit.

"I was there at the beginning, enjoyed the advancements and was happy we could do it in Regina," Busse says.

The University of Baltimore grad could have worked almost anywhere. But in 1969, he chose Regina's then-fledgling cardiac surgical unit.

Busse spent years lobbying for new staff and better equipment. He has always supported two cardiac units in the province.

"This specialized care is more available to small towns if it's in both Regina and Saskatoon," Busse says.

"If it was only in one or the other, one part of the province would be disadvantaged."

His persistence paid off, and he has never stopped advocating for a strong surgical team.

"The conductor doesn't make music, he puts together a team to make the music," Busse says.

"But, unless the team plays with you, it doesn't work out."

Dr. Karim Nasser, professor emeritus of engineering, Saskatoon

Karim Nasser still lives in the first house he bought in Saskatoon more than 40 years ago.

Originally from Lebanon, he moved to Saskatchewan in 1961 to finish his PhD in civil engineering.

He was hired as a professor, and soon started building apartments in the summer. That turned into a successful side career.

And while money changes many people, it did not change Nasser.

To the Nassers, wealth is family. Nasser and his wife Dora have five children. He works alongside two of them today. They all received the same life lessons from their dad.

"The most important part of any life I use to tell my children is you need a very good education," Nasser says.

"If you have education you have freedom. You can start doing whatever needs to be done. And you need responsibility. You have to be responsible enough to make sure. With freedom there is responsibility, and you have to be careful to balance between the two."

Nasser believes part of that responsibility is giving back to your community, and education is his top priority. He's donated millions of dollars he's made through real estate to the University of Saskatchewan.

He has also given to the hospitals and library, saying giving back makes the community a better place to live.

Malcolm Jenkins, entrepreneur, Prince Albert

Malcolm Jenkins says the more than two decades he's spent in Prince Albert have been the best years of his life.

Jenkins has played a key role in various fundraising efforts in his community.

"The fun part is getting other people involved and getting them to leap on board," Jenkins says.

"And, boy, if you want a town where people leap on board, you pick Prince Albert."

He says it was a "complete shock" to be named a recipient of the Saskatchewan Order of Merit.

"I really wasn't aware of the significance of it at the time," Jenkins says. "I fully am now."

Shirley Schneider, retired educator, Regina

Shirley Schneider is never more at home than walking a school hallway. She has spent a career helping pregnant teenagers complete their high school education. It wasn't easy. When she began teaching in the 1960's, principals used code words to explain a pregnant student had to drop out.

"Behind the door would be a young woman and he'd say, this is Jennifer and she's going to be in your class and we're going to help her with her studies because she's going to her grandma's or aunties in Swift Current," Schneider says.

"Right away, that was code for the fact the girl was pregnant."

In 1972, Schneider established a special class at Regina's Balfour Collegiate for pregnant teens -- a program unheard of anywhere in country.

About a dozen students enrolled in the first year. Now, 125 are in the class. Schneider also lobbied the government to permit infant daycares, which allowed young moms to bring their babies to school. The first such centre was built across the street from Balfour.

Nearly 40 years later, the Balfour Special Tutorial Program has been renamed in honour of the woman who helped establish it.

But this wasn't Schneider's only contribution to young people. She also helped launch a youth suicide awareness program and founded Queen City Collegiate for international students.