Honours & Awards History

The story behind the names.

40 Years Later

A Brief Chronicle of The Ontario Historical Society’s Honours and Awards.

Written by Andrea Izzo, Coordinator of Communications for The Ontario Historical Society.
Note: This article first appeared in Issue 160 (July 2007) of the OHS Bulletin.

Representatives of the John R. Park Homestead receive the 2009 Russell K. Cooper Living History Site or Heritage-Based Museum Award.

The year 1967 saw the celebration of Canada’s Centennial. Hundreds of events were hosted in newly opened or recently renovated museums across the nation to help commemorate the 100th anniversary of the passing of the British North America Act. It was also a very exciting year for The Ontario Historical Society. A collection of twenty-four essays was published in Profiles of a Province: Studies in the History of Ontario; the Society appointed its first Executive Assistant, and for the first time, The Ontario Historical Society’s Honours and Awards Program was introduced.

Initially there were only two awards; both named in honour of Brigadier-General Ernest Cruikshank (1853-1939). A veteran of the First World War and an avid historian, he published an astounding number of essays in the Society’s Papers and Records. He was elected an honourary member of the OHS in 1899 and sat as its President from 1920-22.

In a ceremony at the 1967 Annual General Meeting Dinner, the first Cruikshank Medals were presented by the Honourable William S. Davis, Minister of Education of Ontario. There were two categories: historical writing in Ontario History and Founders Medals awarded in recognition of outstanding services to The Ontario Historical Society and to the development of local history in Ontario. The first award recipients were J. Keith Johnson and James K. Lewis for best written article and best written article by a non-professional historian, respectively. These two authors received what would later be known as the Riddell Award, which was named in honour of Justice William Renwick Riddell of the Ontario Supreme Court who, like Cruikshank, had published many important articles in The Ontario Historical Society’s Papers and Records. The Founders Medals, which would later be known as simply the Cruikshank Medal, were awarded to Dr. George Spragge and Dr. Fred Landon.

Fred Landon (1880-1969) was a historian at the University of Western Ontario who wrote many articles on Canada’s social history, a relatively new field at the time. He wrote sixteen articles for Ontario History on a variety of topics, which included his area of specialty; the Underground Railroad Abolitionist movement. Today, the OHS continues to honour Landon’s contribution to the province’s history and in 1987 it introduced the Fred Landon Award, which honours the best book on regional history in Ontario published in the past three years. In the same year, the Honours and Awards Committee also introduced the Joseph Brant Award, which was named after the Mohawk war chief and statesman Thayendanegea (c.1742-1807) and today this honours the best book on multicultural history in Ontario published within the past three years.

After its sixth year, the Honours and Awards Program introduced another special award, the Scadding Award of Excellence, which is awarded to a heritage society or heritage group that has made an outstanding contribution in the field of history. It was named in honour of Canon Henry Scadding (1813-1901), the founding member and first president of the Pioneer Association of Ontario, which would later reorganize and incorporate in 1898 into what is now The Ontario Historical Society.

The 1980s saw a proliferation of Honours and Awards. In 1980, the Honours and Awards Committee reorganized the program to accommodate the growing number of categories. New award categories were created, they included the Carnochan Award and the President’s Award, which honours a corporation, business, or executive that has contributed to heritage conservation in the province. Its first recipient was The Millcroft Inn Limited, in care of Jeremy Kendall, for the successful restoration and reuse of an 1881 woolen mill. The Carnochan Award was introduced to honour an individual who has contributed many years of service to the heritage community. It was named in memory of Janet Carnochan (1839-1926), who throughout her lifetime, worked to have the history of her hometown of Niagara-on-the-Lake more properly preserved.

Like Carnochan, Bruce Napier Simpson Jr. (1925-1978) also played a significant role in the conservation of the province’s built heritage, including Black Creek Pioneer Village, and he did so through his expertise as an architect. It was in honour of Mr. Simpson’s efforts that in 1982 the B. Napier Simpson Jr. Award of Merit was created. It is awarded to a municipal heritage committee in Ontario for special contributions to heritage conservation in its municipality in the recent past.

On December 3, 1989, a new award was officially established in honour of Dorothy Duncan, former Executive Director of The Ontario Historical Society, historian, and author. It was announced during a surprise ceremony at the conclusion of the official opening of an OHS exhibit at the Community History Project Heritage Centre in Toronto. The Dorothy Duncan Award, in the form of a cash presentation, is awarded to a non-profit organization which must be nominated by a Municipal Council or a First Nations Council for outstanding service to its region. Its first recipient, the Latchford/Montreal River Heritage Preservation Project, was recognized two years later.

In the 1990s, the Committee introduced three new awards. First, in 1993, the Museum Award of Excellence in Community Programming was created to honour a non-profit public museum in Ontario which has shown excellence in community involvement and programming. Secondly, in 1995, came the J.J. Talman Award, which is presented to the best book on Ontario’s social, economic, political, or cultural history published in the past three years. It was named in honour of Dr. James Talman, a past president and a long time supporter of The Ontario Historical Society. During his membership with the OHS, which lasted in excess of an astonishing 60 years, Talman contributed a great deal of effort and volunteerism, including becoming the editor of the journal during an era of financial hardship for the OHS that followed the Second World War. Thirdly, in 1998, the Alison Prentice Award was created to honour the best book on women’s history published in the past three years. It was named after Dr. Alison Prentice, a distinguished scholar in the field of Women’s History and Studies in Education.

The new millennium saw the advent of two more awards. Following the death of an esteemed colleague who was well known across the province for his countless contributions to the interpretation of Ontario’s history and his volunteerism, the Honours and Awards Committee introduced the Russell K. Cooper Living History Site Award. It was first awarded in 2001 to Dundurn National Historic Site for showing excellence in programming, ingenious problem solving, and/or site development. Most recently created was the Donald Grant Creighton Award, honouring the best book of biography or autobiography highlighting life in Ontario, past or present, published within the past three years. It was named after historian Donald Creighton, whose works include a two-volume biography of Sir John A. Macdonald, both of which won the Governor General’s Award for non-fiction.

Editor’s Note: In 2009, the OHS added the Huguenot Society of Canada Award, in honour of the best book or substantial article published in Ontario in the past three years which has brought public awareness to the principles of freedom of conscience and freedom of thought. The Ontario Historical Society created the Awards Program in order to acknowledge the work of outstanding individuals and organizations, and to raise awareness of Ontario’s history and the people who work to preserve it. It does so by presenting such people with awards that were named after model Canadians who continue to set an example for anyone interested in preserving the province’s history and heritage.