It was a love-in for Canada Wednesday night at Ottawa’s Rideau Hall, as recipient after recipient of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards sang the country’s praises.
Actors Martin Short, Michael J. Fox and crooner Michael Bublé were among this year’s honourees, along with theatre director Brigitte Haentjens, filmmaker Jean Beaudin, philanthropist William Loewen and theatre artist Yves Sioui Durand.
Short — famed for his work on SCTV and on stage — joked in his speech about Justin Trudeau and Short’s box office bomb Mars Attacks! (a movie that came up several times through the ceremony).
But he was sincere about how much Canada means to him.
“I have loved and have been so proud of being a Canadian my entire life. It is like being the hippest member of any club you want to join,” he said.
“I can honestly say that I’ve never met an American who wasn’t just a tad bit envious of my passport.”
Short, who hails from Hamilton, Ont., but lives in the U.S., called Canadians who lived there “the aliens they don’t deport.” The comedian was given a lifetime artistic achievement in broadcast.
Bublé returns during ‘difficult’ time
Bublé opted for a more serious ode to Canada, praising the country for its diversity and the support it has shown the singer’s family in an “emotional and difficult” time.
He looked emotional while accepting the National Arts Centre award and stressed the importance of family.
He said Canada was a land born of Aboriginal people, settlers and immigrants, “different colours, languages, religions. Yet we share the same decent humanity, the same dreams, hopes and fears.”
“Our country has a way of making all of us feel that we are completely distinct while in no way giving off an air of superiority.”
Fox, the Edmonton-born Emmy winner, credited a particular Canadian talent for kick-starting his interest in acting — Mr. Dressup, a kid’s show he grew up watching on CBC.
“Ernie Coombs is as responsible as anyone for my fascination with acting,” he said of the actor who played the titular role. “Long before I even heard of Mr. Rogers or Captain Kangaroo, the Friendly Giant and Mr. Dressup were teaching me to cherish and honour my own imagination and send me off to school envisioning a world of limitless possibility.”
Fox was honoured with a lifetime artistic achievement in broadcast for his three-decade film and TV career, which includes Family Ties, the Back to the Future trilogy and The Good Wife. He’s also an advocate for those living with Parkinson’s disease, with which he was diagnosed in 1991.
Fox thanked his family including his sister, Kelli, a fellow actor, as well as some of his high school teachers for believing in his acting aspirations.
“I like to thank Canada for the warm embrace from home.”
Awards turn 25 this year
And there’s more celebration to come.
Though the honourees were handed their awards Wednesday, they will be feted again Thursday with a gala at the National Arts Centre, which includes performances and tributes. CBC will live stream the gala Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.
The awards, which turn 25 this year, recognize Canadian artists from a host of disciplines, including classical and popular music, theatre, dance, film and broadcasting.
The ceremony also celebrates arts volunteers and philanthropists with a special prize named after former governor general Ramon John Hnatyshyn, who founded the annual awards in 1992.
A newer addition, the award foundation’s mentorship program, matches a past lifetime achievement winner with a promising protege. This year’s pair were former prima ballerina and National Ballet of Canada artistic director Karen Kain and Toronto choreographer and dancer Robert Binet.
CBC will broadcast a condensed hour-long special of the awards Friday at 9 p.m. ET on TV and online.