2009 dinner

Something was wrong. The evening had been exemplary. The lights stayed on. The air conditioning system hummed steadily. Nobody rushed the podium to present flowers to the award recipient. No one paraded nude outside the panoramic windows across the dining room of the Geneva Park Conference Centre.

Think of the tremendous loss of face for the Stephen Leacock Association last June 13, and the Dinner Committee responsible for planning the 62nd presentation of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and its accompanying TD Bank Financial Group Cash Award, a record $15,000. For years, the evening could be depended upon for some unexpected interference, an inebriated or lost soul interposing upon the proceedings, or Mother Nature disrupting the carefully orchestrated program. People would purchase tickets to the Award Dinner on the conjecture that something out-of-the-ordinary would occur at some point in the evening. Guests on the podium lineup would prepare not only the commentary for which they were invited, but also an alternate in the event of the annual catastrophe.

How unfortunate then, that, after anticipating something – what, not known, most of Nature’s bag of tricks having been exposed – nothing would occur! A room filled with dinner guests: an entire evening of carefully arranged proceedings smoothly dispatched. Imagine!

It couldn’t have been anything that emcee Drew Hayden Taylor did or did not do. Himself a published writer and playwright, Taylor skillfully kept the spotlight on special guests and the guest of honour, Mark Leiren-Young, this year’s award recipient for Never Shoot a Stampede Queen, while weaving related anecdotes from his own experiences.

Dan Needles, a Leacock Award recipient and Mayor of Mariposa, concluded his report on the state of things in Mariposa by saying, “I find myself seeking out, more and more, the voices of Mariposa. If we are getting any one message from the evening news and the daily paper these days, it is that we really have to get together like this more often.”

Perhaps part of the success enjoyed by Leiren-Young is due to his life-long dedication to creating the voices of Mariposa. This dedication became apparent during his acceptance speech to the dinner guests.

“When I was a kid, I would pick up the Vancouver Province to read the funniest person in the world, Eric Nicol.” Nicol was a three-time Leacock Award recipient. Mark found inspiration in the works of many more who received the Leacock Award: Paul Quarrington, Pierre Berton, Mordecai Richler, Bill Richardson, and the Ferguson brothers, among others.

Mark outlined his odyssey to the award dinner and his agreements with, in turn, previous nominees Ian and Will Ferguson who, unable to attend the annual award announcement luncheons, asked Mark to attend for them. His repeat trips to Orillia on their behalf made the Sunshine City a favourite for him.

“Every time I visit, there’s a prize! I wrote for a very long time before anyone awarded me any prizes,” he remarked to the audience.

Mark, a fan of Bill Richardson, another Vancouver writer, realized after Richardson received his Leacock Award in 1994 that the award could be a possibility for him, too. “It was after he won that I added ‘win the Leacock medal’ to my lifetime wish list.”

Mark was further inspired by Dan Needles’ play, Letters From Wingfield Farm, to get his own stories into print. Never Shoot A Stampede Queen grew from that.

Mark received the silver Stephen Leacock Medal from the Association and the $15,000 TD Bank Financial Group Cash Award, presented by Jamie Collins, District Vice President for TD Canada Trust.

Mark’s publisher, Rodger Touchie of Heritage House Publishing Co. Ltd., brought greetings and congratulations to Mark and the Leacock Association. “I applaud you greatly for what you have done over 60 years. I applaud TD Bank; the amount of money is a significant statement.” Touchie said Mark came to his attention only a few years ago, when Heritage House took options on a manuscript about the seniors’ protest group the Raging Grannies.

Danielle Shachar, of Newtonbrook Secondary School in Toronto, received the Student Award for Humour, and Leacock Association member Betty Stewart of Orillia received a Lifetime Membership in appreciation of contributions to the work of the Association by her and her late husband, board member Jack Stewart.

2009 winner Mark Leiren-Young accepts his $15,000 cheque from TD Financial Group representatives Jamie Collins and Sandra Stanton.

 Mark with ‘Mayor of Mariposa’ Dan Needles.

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