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USask historian awarded Royal Society’s Tyrrell Medal
Distinguished Professor Emeritus Bill Waiser is a former faculty member of the Department of History. (Photo: Daniel Hallen)
Bill Waiser, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the University of Saskatchewan (USask), has been awarded the prestigious J.B. Tyrrell Historical Medal by the Royal Society of Canada for outstanding contributions to the field of Canadian history.
Waiser, former faculty member in the College of Arts and Science for more than 30 years, is the author, co-author or editor of 17 books including A World We Have Lost: Saskatchewan Before 1905 which won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction in 2016. The jury stated the book “surprises the reader with its reconsideration of Canada,” and that Waiser “refocuses the country’s story by putting Indigenous peoples and environmental concerns in the foreground.”
“Prof. Waiser is a gifted scholar who has investigated and shared the story of our province not just with students but with the broader Canadian public through his many books, public talks and extensive engagement with television, radio and print media,” said USask Vice-President Research Karen Chad.
“His passion for storytelling and dedication to providing a better understanding and appreciation of Canadian history—particularly the leading role played by Indigenous peoples—makes him a worthy recipient of this distinguished honour.”
The Tyrrell Medal will be presented to Waiser at a special Royal Society ceremony on Nov. 17 in Halifax, N.S.
A specialist in western and northern Canadian history, Waiser served as head of the Department of History from 1995 to 1998. He is the second USask historian to be recognized with the Tyrrell Medal, which is awarded every two years by the Royal Society “for outstanding work in the history of Canada”, provided a suitable candidate is found.
The first USask recipient of the Tyrrell Medal was A.S. Morton who was honoured in 1941. Morton joined the university in 1914 as chief librarian and history professor, and went on to head the history department. He was instrumental in establishing the Saskatchewan archives and served as the province’s first archivist from 1938 until his death in 1945.
The medal connection to Morton is highly meaningful to Waiser, who served as the A.S. Morton Research Chair at the USask for four years before leaving the university in June 2014.
“Arthur Morton won it nearly 80 years ago for his work on western Canadian history, and I’m following in his footsteps, so it’s very special to me,” Waiser said.
“Both professionally and personally, it’s very gratifying to be awarded this medal. It’s very flattering to be recognized by my peers this way. It means that my work has some significance, has resonated with people, and has made a contribution.”
Waiser’s extensive community outreach has included a weekly column “History Matters” for The StarPhoenix, a weekly column “Mining the Past” for CBC Radio, and serving as researcher and on-camera host for “Looking Back,” an award-winning CBC Saskatchewan television production that was later reproduced in DVD format by the provincial government for distribution to all schools in the province. He has given over 250 talks on Canadian topics to schools and libraries, conventions, clubs and organizations, public ceremonies, and conferences.
Since leaving USask, Waiser has served as a visiting scholar at Duke University in North Carolina, McGill University in Montreal, Que., Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., and Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand.
Waiser was awarded the Saskatchewan Centennial Medal in 2005 and the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 2006. He was inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2007. In 2017, he was named a Member of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honour.
“I had a wonderful career at the University of Saskatchewan and I had tremendous opportunities there,” he said. “This medal is just the icing on the cake. I am thankful and very grateful.”
The RSC medal is named for Joseph Tyrrell, a Canadian geologist, cartographer and mining consultant. Tyrrell discovered the dinosaur bones in Alberta’s badlands, and coal around Drumheller. The renowned Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller is named for him.
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