Award season: Martin Short, Michael J. Fox among performing artists honoured by governor general

Photo: Mark Seliger

Two of Canada’s best known cultural exports, comedian Martin Short and actor Michael J. Fox, will be among the five laureates feted in June by the 2017 Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards Foundation.

The awards, which feature a glittering gala at the National Arts Centre on June 29, come as the NAC prepares to celebrate the unveiling of their newly renovated building and the country marks 150 years of Confederation.

Fox and Short are joined by Quebec film director and screenwriter Jean Beaudin, theatre director and current NAC director of French Theatre Brigitte Haentjens and Yves Sioui Durand, a leading indigenous writer, theatre and film director, actor and producer in Quebec.

The winner of the 2017 Ramon J. Hnatyshyn Award for Voluntarism in the Performing Arts is the Winnipeg businessman and philanthropist William H. Loewen. He has been a strong supporter of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra over the years. He has also worked on behalf of the Manitoba Opera, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the Manitoba Choral Association, the Winnipeg Chamber Music Association and the St. Norbert Arts Centre.

The announcement of the latest additions to the now lengthy list of laureates honoured by the governor general was made Thursday morning at the new headquarters of the Canada Council for the Arts in downtown Ottawa.

The awards were started in 1992 by former governor general Hnatyshyn. On the list of names honoured over the last quarter century are Leonard Cohen, Oscar Peterson, Neil Young, Christopher Plummer, Atom Egoyan, Sarah McLachlan, Jean-Marc Vallee, Mary Walsh, Gilles Vigneault, William Shatner and Denis Villeneuve.

Short, who is best known for his many movie roles and his TV work on SCTV and Saturday Night Live, spoke to the ceremony  by a video recording that also featured late night TV talk show host Jimmy Kimmel.

Fox, also best known for TV work on the series Family Ties and the mega success of the Back to the Future film trilogy, also greeted the well-wishers by video link with a promise to attend the awards gala. He said the award was an “unexpected” honour and promised to bring his mother to the celebrate the induction. Fox’s career has been impacted by Parkinson’s disease but he continues to make appearances, most recently on the Oscar broadcast when he joined fellow Canadian and Vancouverite Seth Rogen on stage during the broadcast.

Three of the 2017 laureates were on hand for the announcement Thursday — Jean Beaudin, Brigitte Haentjens and Yves Sioui Durand.

Beaudin, who started his career at the National Film Board, is best known for his film J.A. Martin photographe, which won an award at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival and many Canadian Film Awards, and his much-heralded TV series Les Filles de Caleb.

Beaudin, who is 78, said “it’s fantastic to have your friends in the business telling you that did a good job in your career.

“It has also given me a chance to reflect over all my work. I had to go back into the file over 50 years. I didn’t know that I worked so hard.”

The Quebec film industry has erupted onto the world stage with directors like Jean-Marc Vallee and Denis Villeneuve. Beaudin fits into that lexicon that also features Denys Arcand and Claude Jutras.

For Brigitte Haentjens, 2017 is the year she will finally attend the gala held each year in Southam Hall. Her schedule has always clashed with the annual event, she says.

“This is the most important prize you can receive here (in Canada),” she said Thursday morning. “I was so surprised because I didn’t know that someone had proposed my name for this award. I feel very excited, especially for the community that has helped me. As you you know I live in Ottawa, I was in Sudbury for 10 years.”

For Sioui Durand, who founded Quebec’s first French language Indigenous theatre company Ondinook. the acknowledgement of his work comes a good time. He said in an interview that he had been wondering if he had been on the right creative path. Sioux, who is of Wendat heritage, was also introduced in a video in which he wore the very first mask he ever used on stage. His work often features masks and other attributes of Indigenous culture, he said in an interview.

“It has come at the right moment in my life. The last few years it has been difficult for me. I’m very surprised but it has given me more confidence in what I am trying to do.

“For the French native people in Quebec, this is very important. The recognition will help invigorate the next generation and it’s a way to re-conquer their identity.”

The Awards also have a Mentorship Program which connects past laureates with up-and-coming artists. This year Karen Kain, the artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada will mentor Robert Binet, who is a choreographic associate at the NBC.

The 2017 gala will feature performances and testimonials to the winners along with short films prepared by the National Film Board profiling each winner.

The gala show will be live streamed by CBC/Radio-Canada on and and the next day CBC/Radio-Canada will air a one-hour special about the gala on CBC and ICI Radio-Canada Télé, at 9 p.m.

Three performing arts laureates were in Ottawa Thursday. From left: Yves Sioui Durand, Brigitte Haentjens and Jean Beaudin. Photo: Peter Robb


Starting at noon, tickets for the gala are available at the NAC Box Office and through Ticketmaster, 1-888-991-2787 or

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.