In search of a “Canadian” voice
The Governor General’s Literary Awards – known affectionately as “the GGs” – were first awarded in 1936. Now Canada’s premier national literary awards, the GGs had a modest start: in the first year, the literary awards were given for works in English only, in just two categories (fiction and non-fiction), and with no cash prize. Today, they are awarded in seven categories, in both French and English, with a $25,000 prize.
The GGs were initiated by Governor General Lord Tweedsmuir (John Buchan), a prolific writer himself who published more than 100 works in his lifetime, including popular spy thrillers of the time, such as The Thirty-Nine Steps and Greenmantle.
Shortly after Lord Tweedsmuir took office he was approached by the Canadian Authors Association (CAA), which had been lobbying for a national literary award from as early as 1926. The new Governor General agreed to establish the awards as a way to encourage the growth of a truly Canadian literature. During the five years he spent in Canada, Lord Tweedsmuir worked steadily to promote literacy and to instil a sense of Canadian identity.
The CAA managed the awards until 1959, when the responsibility was transferred to the Canada Council for the Arts, which had been founded just two years earlier. In 1959, the awards were also expanded to include French-language fiction and other genres.
In the 76 years since Bertram Brooker and Thomas B. Roberton won the inaugural two prizes, 519 Canadian authors, poets, playwrights, translators and illustrators have been honoured for 621 different works, which, together have created a truly Canadian voice.