Will Ferguson

Recipient of the 2005 Pierre Berton Award 

November 21, 2011

Will Ferguson was born in the former fur-trading post of Fort Vermilion (pop: 840), in northern Canada. “Closer to the Arctic Circle than the American border.” He grew up as part of a lively, large single-parent family.

At nineteen, he joined the youth volunteer program Katimavik, which paid “a dollar a day and all the granola we could eat.” With Katimavik, Will worked at a museum in Kelowna, BC, at a nursing home in southern Ontario and at a conservation park in St. Canut, Quebec. (Will's travels with Katimavik are retold in his memoir I Was a Teenage Katima–victim!.)

After Katimavik, Will lived in Quebec City, and the following summer he joined Canada World Youth, an overseas exchange program between Canada and the developing world. Will's tour of duty with CWY (1985–86) took him first to New Liskeard, Ontario and then to Ecuador in South America. In New Liskeard, Will worked at an agricultural college where his duties included shovelling manure, herding sheep and — on occasion — helping to deliver calves.

Will travelled with CWY to South America in the winter of 1985, where he lived with a local family in the village of Malacatos near the border of Peru. (Will's experiences in Ecuador are in his book Why I Hate Canadians. Returning from South America in 1986, Will enrolled in the York University Film Program in Toronto where he graduated with a BFA in Film Production and Screenwriting in 1990. After a short, dismal stint as a locations assistant for a Farrah Fawcett project with ABC TV, Will headed to Japan.

He went as part of the JET Program (Japan Exchange Teachers). “I planned on staying one year to clear up some debts and get a break from film. I ended up staying five years and forgetting all about my original career plans.” For his first two years, he lived on the Amakusa Islands, south of Nagasaki, in the fishing village of Kawaura. He later moved to the city of Minamata where he spent the next three years of his life.

While in Asia, Will backpacked across Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and mainland China. And he became the first person ever to hitchhike the length of Japan (a distance roughly equivalent to that of Miami to Montreal). He was also the first person ever to follow Japan's “Cherry Blossom Front” as it moved north across the Japanese archipelago, from Cape Sata in the south, to Cape Soya in the north. The journey ended on Rishiri Island off the coast of Siberia. (Will's end-to-end journey across Japan is recounted in his critically acclaimed travel narrative Hokkaido Highway Blues - C. Will also wrote a nuts-and-bolts guidebook for backpackers and budget travellers entitled The Hitchhiker's Guide to Japan.

Will and his wife Terumi were married in a Shinto ceremony in Kumamoto City in 1995. They returned to Canada afterwards and settled in the seaside town of St. Andrews, New Brunswick. Will and Terumi moved to Prince Edward Island the following year, where Will found work with a local travel company selling Anne of Green Gables tours to Japanese tourists. “Which was about as difficult as selling a glass of water to someone whose hair is on fire,” says Will.

While in PEI, Will began writing a newspaper column on Japanese culture and customs, titled “East Meets West,” for the Charlottetown Guardian. When he sold his first book, Will immediately quit his day job at the tour company and moved back to New Brunswick with Terumi.

Will Ferguson's publishing debut, Why I Hate Canadians, was released in September 1997, and went on to sell 50,000 copies. The follow-up, How to Be a Canadian, written with his brother Ian, has now sold 125,000 copies and won the CBA Libris Award for Non-Fiction Book of the Year.

In 2002, Will Ferguson was shortlisted twice for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour: once for Happiness™ (aka “Generica”) and again for How to Be a Canadian. There are only five books on the final shortlist, and this was the first time in the history of the Leacock Award that an author has been nominated twice in the same year (Happiness™ went on to win.)

Will has toured Argentina, Holland, the UK, the US and Spain for his novel Happiness™. He lives in Calgary with his wife and their two sons.

More from Will Ferguson

History Idol: Agnes Macphail

According to humorist Will Ferguson Agnes Macphail was funny, took no guff from men, but most importantly, she had an immense impact on Canadian politics.