Evolution of the Award

The Stephen Leacock Associates was founded in 1946 and began awarding the Leacock Medal for Humour in 1947. The number of entries has continually grown — 84 books have been put forward by publishers and writers for 2020. An anonymous panel of judges, appointed from across Canada by the Associates’ board of directors, vets all entries and selects both the short list and the final winner.

The short list of five books has typically been announced each April 1st, the winning book announced at the end of April at a luncheon, and the Leacock Memorial medal and a cash award of $25,000 presented to the winner in June at the Leacock gala dinner held in Orillia, Ontario.

In 2015, the Leacock Associates added a long list announcement.

With the 2016 competition, the announcement format evolved again. The long list of ten finalists continued as part of the new tradition, but the short list was trimmed to three books from five. The entry deadline was moved ahead to December 31, and the announcements of the long list and short list moved along as well.
The most significant change was that the winner of the Leacock Medal and cash prize was now announced and awarded at the Leacock gala dinner instead of the earlier luncheon. 

For the 2022 competition, the dates for announcement of the short list, long list and winner were changed, with the winner announcement being made in the fall instead of the spring.  The cash prize was also increased to $25,000 for the winner, and $4,000 for each runner-up.

In 2024, the gala weekend moved back to June.

Check out our important dates.

A more detailed history is available here.

Past Winners

Our list of past winners identifies the winning authors, the titles of their books, and the name of the publishers for each of the years from 1947 to the present, with the exception of 1959 when it was deemed that none of the submitted books was up to the required standard.

The Order of Mariposa

In 1986, the Stephen Leacock Associates awarded its first Order of Mariposa to actress Barbara Hamilton at a luncheon hosted at the McGill Club of Toronto. This award, designed to recognize contributions to Canadian humour in a form other than the written word, is presented every two or three years, but has not been awarded since 2005. The inductees so far are:

1986 · Barbara Hamilton (1926 - 1996) 

1988 · Ben Wicks (1926 - 2000)

1990 · Pierre Berton, (1920 - 2004)

1992 · Duncan Macpherson (1924 - 1993)

1995 · Dave Broadfoot (1925 - 2016)

1998 · Don Harron (1924 - 2015) “Charlie Farquharson”

2001 · Lynn Johnston (1947 - ) “For Better or for Worse”

2005 · Morley Torgov (1927 - )

The original physical award consisted of a framed personal portrait by renowned caricaturist Isaac Bickerstaff (aka Don Evans) identifying the recipient as a most Honoured Member of the Order of Mariposa. Future inductees will receive portraits by other artists.

Stephen LeacockStepen Leacock

Stephen Butler Leacock, Canada’s pre-eminent humorist, was born in Swanmore, England, in 1869 and as a young child moved to Canada with his family. They settled in southern Ontario close to the shores of Lake Simcoe (on a 100-acre farm near the village of Egypt). Leacock attended Upper Canada College, the University of Toronto, and obtained his Ph.D from the University of Chicago. He became a professor in the Department of Economics and Political Science at Montreal’s McGill University in 1903. 

In 1908 Leacock purchased 19.73 acres of land in Orillia, Ontario, on the shores of Lake Couchiching. (Eventually the entire acreage of the property was 33 acres.) The property came to be known as The Old Brewery Bay. It was here (in 1928) that Leacock built a magnificent summer home which today has been transformed into a national historic site and museum. 

In 1910 Stephen published the first of his humorous books, Literary Lapses, and thus began a humour-writing career that gained him fame throughout the world. In 1912 his most famous book, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, was published. In it, the author lampooned the residents and the foibles of his summertime home. His fictional Mariposa was undeniably real-life Orillia.

From 1910 until his death in 1944, Leacock produced an impressive string of best-selling humour books which still sell remarkably well over sixty years after his death. Ironically – and perhaps that is fitting considering his gentle style of humour – it was Professor Leacock’s 1906 book, Elements of Political Science, a university textbook, that was his most profitable effort in the publishing field. His lecture tours of Canada, the United States and Europe were hugely successful. 

Leacock reluctantly retired from McGill in 1936 , having been head of his department since 1908. Among the honours heaped upon him were being elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 1919 and winning the Mark Twain Medal in 1935. 

Stephen Leacock passed away in March 1944 and was buried in his family’s plot at Sibbald Point. In 1947 an award was instituted in his name: The Leacock Medal for Humour, awarded annually to the book deemed best book of humour published in Canada the previous year.

For more information about Stephen Leacock and his works, please visit the Library and Archives Canada web site.