Ottawa journalist and historian Mark Bourrie wins final RBC Taylor Prize

TORONTO — Mark Bourrie believed that “Bush Runner” would be his last book. But after winning the RBC Taylor Prize, Bourrie suspects he may have at least one more title left in him.

The Ottawa journalist and historian was named the final recipient of the $30,000 prize for literary non-fiction at a Toronto luncheon Monday.

“For a long time I wondered if anybody cared about what I wrote,” Bourrie, 62, told the crowd, choking back emotion. “People do.”

Published by Biblioasis, “Bush Runner” is a biography of the swashbuckling fur trader Pierre-Esprit Radisson, who helped found the Hudson’s Bay Company.

In their citation, jurors praised Bourrie for his picaresque portrayal of “the humane con artist of heroic stamina and fluid loyalties.”

After his acceptance speech, Bourrie said in an interview that winning the RBC Taylor Prize “made all the difference” in his decision to write another book.

But with the prize being shuttered after two decades, he worries other writers may choose to retire their pen.

Still, he holds out hope that some benefactor will pick up the mantle of rewarding Canadian non-fiction narratives, so citizens can experience their own stories.

“We abhor (our history). We’ve got to get over that,” Bourrie said.

“We’ve got to start making movies where people sing the praises of Toronto the way they sing the praises of New York, and just start to fit in our own skin better as a country.”

A who’s who of Canada’s literary scene gathered for Monday’s awards ceremony, including several past laureates who were shuttled to Toronto for a weekend of celebrations.

Bourrie said it was hard to contain his excitement as a “fan” of so many of the writers in the room.

He even got a chance to ask Thomas King to sign a copy of his 2014 Taylor Prize-winning “The Inconvenient Indian,” which Bourrie read as part of his studies after making the late-in-life decision to attend law school.

Bourrie also holds a doctorate in Canadian history, has authored 13 previous books and has written for many of Canada’s major newspapers.

He beat out non-fiction titles by Globe and Mail reporter Robyn Doolittle, B.C.-based journalist Jessica McDiarmid, science broadcaster Ziya Tong and Canadian-born, Colorado-based historian Timothy Winegard.

Each finalist receives $5,000, with Bourrie taking home an additional $25,000.

Bourrie will also choose a protege to receive the $10,000 RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Award.

Jurors Margaret Atwood, Coral Ann Howells and Peter Theroux culled the 2020 short list from a record 155 submissions, according to organizers.

Before the winner was announced Monday, RBC Taylor Prize founder Noreen Taylor thanked all five finalists for upholding the program’s mission of fostering a “more informed and compassionate society.”

“This might end today, but we need you to continue for all of our sakes,” she said.

First awarded in 2000, the RBC Taylor Prize honours late Canadian writer and historian Charles Taylor’s commitment to literary non-fiction.

Organizers say more than 100 Canadian non-fiction writers have benefited from the prize program.

Past winners include Carol Ann Shields, Charles Foran, Ian Brown and Tanya Talaga.

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