Monday, October 01, 2018

Prize Watch: Can you have GG awards with no GG?

Julie Payette, the newish Governor General of Canada, is being criticized for not being active enough in her role and for withholding her patronage from events and honours traditionally associated with her office.  One such award program is the Governor General's History Awards and the Awards for Excellence in Teaching History.

Merna Forster of weighs in on a historical honour usually conferred by (and usually at) Rideau Hall:
I had the honour of receiving the 2016 Governor General's History Award for Popular Media (Pierre Berton Award) from David Johnston at Rideau Hall .I was dismayed to learn that Governor General Payette has decided that she will not present the awards for the 2018 Governor General's History Awards, nor will she permit the ceremony to be held at Rideau Hall. I believe these awards provide important recognition to exemplary history teachers, historians and community groups who strive for excellence in the field of history. Surely they should have the honour of receiving their Governor General's History Awards from the Governor General of Canada, at Rideau Hall.

A few years ago, the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History won the 2008 Pierre Berton Award - before it became part of the GG Awards. The team received the award in a Chinese restaurant on Spadina - not quite the same experience as a ceremony at Rideau Hall!
I've been a little sceptical of the sudden wave of apparently well-sourced criticism of Ms Payette.
Many members of the tight-knit community that operates in and around Rideau Hall told the Post they have grown frustrated with a governor general who constantly challenges tradition
This kind of tension between Rideau Hall staff and new governors general has been frequent. (The most successful GGs in recent years had both media charisma and an ability to shape their staffs to their will.) These Payette stories made me wonder if this is another new governor general being undermined from within in a struggle for authority. Who knows who is actually responsible for the delays in reviewing the GG's activities for which Payette is being blamed?

But I do sympathize with the teachers and others denied the very special opportunity to attend at Rideau Hall and be honoured personally by the head of state. Good call, Merna. The Canada's History Society, organizers of these prizes, will have to scramble to ensure this year's winners are properly honoured.

(When the Berton Award really was the Berton Award, it was presented as part of the festivities at a raucous annual fundraising dinner and party that also supported another worthy cause, the Berton House writers's retreat in Dawson City. In its early years, the event often concluded with Pierre Berton himself reciting "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" from memory. So I remember that Chinese restaurant more fondly that Merna seems to... but still, as she says, it ain't Rideau Hall.

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