One of Saskatchewan’s most distinguished historians is being awarded a Governor General’s Award for his contributions to the field of history and heritage on Jan. 28, wherein Canada’s Governor General will present him the nation’s top honour in Ottawa’s Rideau Hall.
Dr. Bill Waiser is, perhaps, one of Saskatchewan’s most prominent figures in terms of celebrity historians. The University of Saskatchewan professor emeritus of history has shared his wealth of knowledge on Western Canada through his CBC Radio segment, Mining the Past, his bi-weekly column in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, called History Matters, and his CBC Saskatchewan TV production, Looking Back.
It is for contributions like these that Waiser has been named the recipient of the 2018 Governor General’s History Award for Popular Media, the Pierre Berton Award. The accolade aims to acknowledge an individual or organization that has helped popularize Canadian history and heritage through various media forms.
For Waiser, engaging the public has been a rewarding task and also one that Saskatchewanians actively want to participate in.
“The matter of reaching out and connecting with the general public, it can be very rewarding and gratifying,” Waiser said. “Everyday people want to talk history and figure things out on where they fit in and why things have happened in a particular way, and I think by having an understanding of history, you’re better armed to deal with some of the challenges we face today.”
Waiser’s forthcoming award is not the first time that his work has been recognized by the Governor General. Waiser was the recipient of the 2016 Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction for his book, A World We Have Lost: Saskatchewan Before 1905. Although both accolades have been important to Waiser, the Pierre Berton Award is a special one as it recognizes his entire of body of work rather than just one contribution.
Waiser says that his work as a public educator has been as important to him as his academic work within the U of S.
“I see my job as bringing history to the Saskatchewan public and not simply to the university,” Waiser said. ”I find that people in this province want to know about their history — they want to talk and debate about their history… [Knowing history] can help in terms of their own identity, where they fit in… History also provides a sense of place — it provides perspective — and history helps explain why things happen in particular ways.”
In fact, Waiser says that history should not be separated into popular and academic realms.
“I don’t believe there should be a dividing line between popular and academic history. As a writer, it’s my job to make it interesting and engaging… As a writer, you need to use creativity to make people care, and I try and do that through my writing.
“I write for the general public or everyday people so that anyone and everybody can read it, understand it and appreciate it. I wouldn’t want to do the research that I do and then write it in such a way that only a few people can understand it. I don’t think that’s the way it should be.”
While he is thankful for the recognition of his previous work, Waiser is already working on new projects. Waiser says that he is currently working on a book that he hopes to release in fall 2019. The book will be about Almighty Voice, a man who was born in the late 1800s in One Arrow First Nation near Batoche, Sask.
Photo: Bill Waiser / Supplied