And the winner of the Charles Taylor Prize is...

Competition was fierce, but a book on chimps ended up winning over the jury

Michelle Siu/CP

Click on the links to read excerpts from the five books that were nominated for the Charles Taylor Prize.

Andrew Westoll emerged as the winner of the 2012 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction from one of the strongest shortlists the prize has ever assembled. Literary jurors—in this case authors Allan Brandt and Stevie Cameron, and publishing consultant Susan Renouf—always say their choice was excruciatingly difficult, but anyone familiar with all five books could only nod along.

Westoll, from Toronto, won the $25,000 award for The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A Canadian Story of Resilience and Recovery, cited by the jury for “brilliantly blending science and storytelling.” It tells the tale of the 13 former research chimps, rescued from often horrific lab conditions to live out the balance of their lives in Gloria Grow’s Fauna Sanctuary in rural Quebec, and reveals them for the complex individuals they are. The other nominees, all from British Columbia, were Wade Davis (Into the Silence), Charlotte Gill (Eating Dirt), JJ Lee (The Measure of a Man) and Madeline Sonik (Afflictions and Departures).

Among the guests at the luncheon where the winner was announced was Governor General David Johnston, graciously adding his presence to a literary prize that competes with his own. “There’s room for two of us,” he cheerfully told Maclean’s, though he did make sure to mention the Governor General’s awards had reached their 75th anniversary last year during his remarks praising the 12-year-old Charles Taylor.

Westoll was equally as gracious in his acceptance remarks, happily noting how fellow nominee “and now good friend” Lee—the sharp-dressed author of The Measure of a Man: The story of a Father a Son and a Suit—had said “my suit looked good today.” He thanked the prize, and particularly Noreen Taylor, its founder, for the extraordinary efforts they made in the two-month lead up to announcing the winner to getting the shortlisted books as much publicity as possible. And, yes, Westoll added later, “I’ll be writing a cheque for Fauna for sure.”

Did you miss Brian Bethune’s interviews with the five finalists a few weeks ago? Watch it here.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.