Candace Savage has won Canada’s richest award for nonfiction for her book A Geography of Blood: Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape, published by Greystone Books and the David Suzuki Foundation. The winner of the C$60,000 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-Fiction was announced and presented at a ceremony in Toronto last night.

Geography of Blood uses a first-person narrative to delve into the history of the prairie, particularly the forced starvation and eviction of the native people from their land. The jury praised Geography of Blood as “a part-memoir, part history, part geological survey, part lament, part condemnation of the accepted myth of the settlement of the Western Plains, and above all, a haunting meditation on time and place.”

Savage has written dozens of books and essays on a wide range of topics, from the cosmic science of the Northern Lights to the inner workings of a beehive. In 2010, she was inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in recognition of her scholarly and artistic achievements

The timing of the award is bittersweet for Greystone Books, part of Vancouver-based D&M Publishers, which filed for bankruptcy protection in October.

Hilary Weston, a former lieutenant governor of Ontario and wife of billionaire businessman and philanthropist Galen Weston, joined the Writers’ Trust in creating this new award, first presented last year, because she said she wanted to help raise the profile of literary nonfiction. The heft of the prize and glamour of the awards ceremony was supplemented this year by the addition of two celebrity jurors. The original three-person jury—former lieutenant governor James Bartleman, author Charlotte Gill and writer Marni Jackson —who narrowed the selection of 104 books to the shortlist of five, were joined by CTV national news correspondent Seamus O’Regan and journalist Barbara Amiel Black, wife of Conrad Black.

The four other finalists for the prize also received C$5,000 each. They are:

  • Kamal Al-Solaylee for Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes (HarperCollins Canada)
  • Modris Eksteins for Solar Dance: Genius, Forgery and the Crisis of Truth in the Modern Age (Knopf Canada)
  • Taras Grescoe for Straphanger: Saving our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile (HarperCollins Canada)
  • JJ Lee for The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son and a Suit (McClelland & Stewart)