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Celebrating 75th Anniversary

of the Leacock Medal for Humour

Review - 2023 Jennie's Boy by Wayne Johnston

Review - 2022 Mercer Memoir

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1991 Writing in the Rain by Howard White 

Interview with HOWARD WHITE about his book on BC coastal life.  

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1985 Love is a Long Shot by Ted Allan                                                  

Interview with LITERARY HISTORIAN BRIAN BUSBY on whether the book should have won the Leacock Medal 

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1983 The Outside Chance of Maximillian Glick                                                  

Part II of Interview with author MORLEY TORGOV 

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1982 Gophers Don't Pay Taxes by Mervyn J. Huston

1979 True Confections by Sondra Gotlieb

Interview with SONDRA GOTLIEB about book and her life

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1975 A Good Place to Come From by Morley Torgov 

Part I – Interview with author MORLEY TORGOV 

(See Part II of the interview above)

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1970 The Boat Who Wouldn't Float by Farley Mowat 

Interview with CLAIRE MOWAT 
about her personal connection to her husband’s book.

1965 War Stories by Gregory Clark 

Interview with author's great-nephew, television journalist 


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1964 Homebrew and Patches by Harry J. Boyle

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1962 Jake and The Kid by W.O. Mitchell

1956 Shall We Join the Ladies by Eric Nicol

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1954 Pardon my Parka by Joan Walker 

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Click here for Youtube Review of Pardon My Parka Review

1953 The Battle of Baltinglass by Larry Earl

1952  The Salt-Box by Jan Hilliard

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Interview with Yarmouth, N.S. local historian and educator 
David Sollows about the authenticity of the book, the process of looking back with affection and humour, and his surprising personal connections to the book.

1951  The Roving I by Eric Nicol

whose works include tributes to Nicol

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1950 Turvey by Earle Birney 

Interview with
Birney's biographer. 

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1949 Truthfully Yours by Angeline Hango 

Interview with
Humour-writing scholar

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1948 Sarah Binks by Paul Hiebert  

Interview with
the Hiebert Digital Collection
his father's book Ojibway Melody.

The What’s So Funny Book Collection

 75th Anniversary – 2022

Leacock Medal for Humour


The What’s So Funny Collection is a set of all books honoured by the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. It was assembled by Port Dover author Dick Bourgeois-Doyle in the process of research and writing his book on the history of the award and past-winners (What’s So Funny? Lessons from the Leacock Medal for Humour (Burnstown Publishing).   The collection, which includes many autographed, first edition versions is being exhibited the year to mark the 75th anniversary of the award.  

Books in the collection include.


The Best Laid Plans, Terry Fallis, 2008

Original Self-Published Version

The Best Laid Plans, the political satire, and its author Terry Fallis are widely celebrated today. The book not only won the 2008 Leacock Medal but also the 2011 Canada Reads competition. It was later developed as a TV series and a stage musical.  But Fallis was largely unknown before this success and had to publish the book at his own expense.  A publishing deal with McClelland & Stewart followed his Leacock Medal win and the book has since been reformatted and distributed widely.  This copy, autographed by Fallis in 2009, is one of those early self-published, print-on-demand versions.


Just Add Water and Stir, Pierre Berton, 1960

Review copy addressed to Eric Nicol

Vancouver columnist and three-time Leacock Medal winner Eric Nicol was a shy student at UBC in the 1940s.  He was enticed into writing for the student newspaper under a pseudonym proposed by the editor, the future icon of Canadian journalism Pierre Berton.  Berton gave Nicol the pen name “Jabez”, a biblical word meaning “he who causes sorrow.”  Years later when Berton himself won a Leacock Medal for his essay collection Just Add Water and Stir, he sent  one of the pre-launch review copies to Nicol with the inscription “For Jabez from an old admirer.” This is that book.


Leaven of Malice, Robertson Davies, 1955

First Edition/First Printing, signed

When Robertson Davies died in 1995, he was celebrated as one of Canada's most popular authors and distinguished “men of letters.”  He was a prolific novelist, playwright, critic, essayist, and academic. But when he wrote the 1955 Leacock Medal winner Leaven of Malice, his day job was as Editor of the Peterborough, Ontario Examiner, one of his family’s newspaper holdings. The book, the second in his trilogy of stories based in the imaginary town of Salterton, follows an adventure focused on the local newspaper editor.  This is a first-edition/first-printing copy of the book and carries Davies’ distinctive signature.


Ojibway Melody, Harry Symons, 1947

Self-Published version, signed

Ojibway Melody: Stories of Georgian Bay by Harry Symons was the inaugural winner of the Leacock Medal in 1947.  On the surface, the book may seem like a light-hearted and simple celebration of summers in Ontario cottage country.  But many scholars including the author’s son, Tom Symons who was the first president of Trent University, see deeper meaning, special tolerance, and caring in the book’s passages.  The book helped inspire the first academic programs in Canadian and Indigenous Studies.  This copy of the book was printed in the 1940s and was signed by the author two years before he died in 1962.


Sarah Binks, Paul Hiebert, 1948 

– Willows Revisited

Inscribed, Hand-written Poem 

Many consider Sarah Binks, the 1948 Leacock Medal winner, by University of Manitoba Professor Paul Hiebert to be iconic Canadian humour.  The book is a gushing, over-the-top mock biography wrapped around a collection of bad poetry. In it, the imaginary Sarah is celebrated as the greatest poetess in the history of Saskatchewan and an expert on farm animals. This first edition/first printing copy was signed by Hiebert for his friends Don and Helen Penner, a couple famous for their contributions to medicine.  This accompanying copy of Willows Revisited, Hiebert’s sequel to Sarah Binks, has a hand-written poem by the author in the back.


Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town,
Stephen Leacock

First Edition (1912) – Plus Frenzied Fiction (1917) signed by Leacock

Stephen Leacock was regarded as the most popular humorist in the English-speaking world at the height of his fame.  He was exceptionally prolific as a humour writer as well as being a respected professor of political economy.  His best-known work remains Sunshine Sketches of Little Town, the book of stories associated with his summers in Orillia, the town where the Leacock Medal award was initiated. This is a first edition, early printing of Sunshine Sketches which first appeared in 1912.  The book that carries Leacock’s signature is a first edition, first printing copy of Frenzied Fiction, published in 1917. 


Generica (Happiness), Will Ferguson, 2002
Signed First edition under original title

When, in 2002, Will Ferguson won his first of three Leacock Medals (the others were for Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw in 2005 and Beyond Belfast in 2010), he received the award for a book that, in a sense, no longer existed.  By the time the medal was awarded for the novel Generica, it had been rebranded by its publisher as the more accessible Happiness.  With this revised title, the book went on to best seller lists and bookstore shelves around the world. This copy is one of those printed under the original title and was signed by the author.


Turvey, Earle Birney, 1950

Signed, First Edition/First Printing plus
Revised 1976 Unexpurgated Edition

When celebrated educator and poet Earle Birney tried to get his WWII picaresque novel Turvey published in the 1940s, he struggled.  British and U.S. publishers didn’t appreciate all of the Canadian themes and references.  Canadian ones balked at the swearing and “army talk.” Birney finally acquiesced, and the book was published with the swear words edited out.  It went on to win the Leacock Medal in 1950, and it inspired radio plays and stage productions.  This is a signed copy of this original version of Turvey along with a colorful, 1976 revision with Birney’s original wording put back in.


The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float, Farley Mowat, 1970

Signed Postcard – Pipe

Environmentalist and writer Farley Mowat wrote close to 50 books, sold millions, and saw his works published in many languages.  Yet The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float, Mowat’s humorous account of his 1960s adventures sailing a leaky boat along the east coast of Canada had a special place in his hear.  It not only won the Leacock Medal in 1970, but also described his meeting Claire, the woman who would become his wife.  This 1971 hard copy of the book accompanies a postcard from Farley and Claire sent just prior to the author’s death at the age of 92 in 2014 as well as one of Farley’s pipes.

The Outside Chance of Maximillian Glick, 

Morley Torgov, 1983

First Edition, signed paperback

The 1983 Leacock Medal winner had a significant impact on Canadian culture as a portal on Jewish life in small town Ontario.  The author, Toronto lawyer Morley Torgov, drew upon his personal experiences as well as a true story to paint a vivid picture that inspired a popular motion picture as well as a TV series that made the name Maximillian Glick well known across Canada. This copy of the book is a first edition hard cover accompanied by a paperback version, published after the book had achieved its varied success and is autographed by the now 94-year-old author (2022).



2022 - Mulling over the Mercer Memoir

Mark Critch’s book, An Embarrassment of Critches, made me laugh more often.  The Prairie Chicken Dance Tour by Dawn Dumont touched me with its poignancy and import.  But after reading the three books short-listed for the 2022 Leacock Medal, I thought that Rick Mercer, the other finalist and eventual winner, deserved the award for his memoir Talking to Canadians.

The Leacock Medal honours Canadian humour and humour writing, and Mercer, as one of the country’s better-known personalities, looms large as a source of smiles and laughs for many people across Canada.

But someone who did not know him could read his medal-winning book and see it as a work that was not all that humorous.  It doesn’t contain many joke-like passages or episodes of glaring comedy.  It is, as promoted, a genuine effort to recount the events and experience in the author’s life that led him to becoming the person we know.  That is the roving rant machine and small-town celebrator who anchored CBC’s Rick Mercer Report for close to 14 years.  The book ends on the threshold of this part of his career, leaving the door open to a likely sequel and keeping the focus of the formative prelude era.

Mercer tells his story with emphasis on the happier moments and has lighter takes on the more challenging events that shaped him, and he does this in the smile-inducing, tongue-in-cheek raging mode that is his iconic style.

Mercer also recalls the detail around his humour-laden work on the This Hour has 22 Minutes, the weekly comedy show that first brought his personality to the national stage. But when he does this, it is in a more nuts and bolts, matter of fact, or process-centred way. 

Overall, it could be read as a largely serious story by those who know little of the author.

Yet, for those of us who know Mercer well, it’s hard to read this book without smiling.

Like most written works, the humour flows at the confluence of the text, the author’s intent, and the reader’s receptors.  With written humour, we smile not because what's on the page or even in a joke alone, but because of the images, thoughts, and recollections that are stimulated,  congeal in our minds, and induce a laugh or smile.  And most of us reading Talking to Canadians think, as we flip the pages, about the TV Rick Mercer, how he makes us feel and how his work on TV and the stage has made us laugh over the years.  So, when he recounts the mechanics of specific projects,  such as the time he cajoled MPs to sing Raise a Little Hell  in a campaign to encourage young people to vote or the TV special Talking with Americans, we recall the people, the images, and the commentary.  And, that's what makes us smile.

When I think of Mercer's TV career, I remember, above all else, his interview with another Leacock Medal winner, Pierre Berton, in 2004. It forms my last memory of Berton, eighty-four-years-old at the time and fated to die later that year, Berton took part in the TV show  to demonstrate how to roll a  joint. At the time, I bemoaned the loss of personalities like Pierre Berton, but consoled myself that another generation of Canadian humorists, like Mercer, had taken his place.  Now, Mercer is at a point in life where he can legitimately look back on it in a memoir.

So, it is the mix of memories as much as the memoir that makes me smile and creates the humour of this book.   

But this humour, so-defined, is layered across a coherent story as well.  Mercer may not see it as easily as others, but his memoir has a coherent, cause-and-effect flow with the right mix of setbacks and success as he ascends his personal showbusiness career.

You can see the pieces coming together when his struggles in school and his small-town Bay boy efforts to fit into St. John’s resolve in the embrace of a theatre group at Prince of Wales Collegiate.  It’s also evident as his sexual identity and emergence as a gay man finds a love and life-long partnership that intertwined with his profession.  I think Mercer fans can leave the book feeling they know him a bit better, being reminded of the things that he's done in his life, and understanding the factors that came together to make that accomplishment.

So, Mercer’s memoir has its own kind of humour, it tells a story that pulls you along, and it is a bit revealing and informative. 

All good reasons to advance it for a literary award. But to my mind, the quality that pushes it over the top into Leacock Medal worthy territory is the pervasive and ever-present love for Canada and the people who populate it.

The sum of the book’s qualities linked to images of Mercer’s work and personality were on full display in his Leacock Medal acceptance speech in September 2022.  With a  story of dentistry and a pigeon’s wing wrapped up in interactions with typical Canadians, Mercer gave most audience members the best reason for laughing since the pandemic broke out in 2020.

So even though I can still say it's not as poignant as one book and not as obviously funny as another, I’d believe Rick Mercer’s Talking to Canadians more than deserves the Leacock Medal for 2022.