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USask historian awarded top national honour for popularizing history
Distinguished Professor Emeritus Bill Waiser will receive the Pierre Berton Award. (Photo: Daniel Hallen)
Dr. Bill Waiser (PhD), distinguished professor emeritus of the University of Saskatchewan, is the 2018 recipient of the Governor General’s History Award for Popular Media: The Pierre Berton Award—the top Canadian honour in the field of history and heritage.
Canada’s National History Society established the history awards in 1996. The Pierre Berton award is given annually to a writer who presents historical events and characters of the country in an informative and engaging way to a general audience through print, film, radio, TV, theatre or the internet.
“Bill brings history to life in everyday language,” said USask Vice-President Research Karen Chad. “His passion for sharing his wealth of knowledge about the development of Western Canada and his insights about contributions made by Indigenous people to our history add an invaluable perspective to public education and discussion.”
Governor General Julie Payette will present the award at a ceremony in Rideau Hall on Jan. 28.
The Pierre Berton Award is the second prestigious honour in the span of three months for Waiser, who received the J.B. Tyrrell Historical Medal from the Royal Society of Canada in September for outstanding contributions to the field of Canadian history.
“This award is an affirmation that what I have been doing, bridging the university and the wider public, is resonating with people,” said Waiser. “They are my primary audience.”
His contributions to popular media have included writing a weekly column, “History Matters,” for The StarPhoenix, and producing a weekly CBC radio segment, “Mining the Past.” He served as the researcher and on-camera host for Looking Back, an award-winning CBC Saskatchewan TV production that the provincial government later distributed in digital format to all Saskatchewan schools.
Waiser, who has given more than 250 public talks, said speaking to Saskatchewan rural audiences has been especially enjoyable and valuable.
“They listen attentively and ask interesting questions. They want to talk and debate issues,” he said. “I learned that it’s not enough to have a good story. You have to make people care. Working with the public has made me a better writer, communicator and historian.”
Waiser, a specialist in western and northern Canadian history, taught at USask for three decades and is the author, co-author or editor of 17 books. His book, A World We Have Lost: Saskatchewan Before 1905, won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction in 2016.
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