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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).