Bill Waiser Transcript

Your excellency, fellow laureates, dear guests.

“Are you a reader or speaker?”

That was the first question put to me by the person who greeted me at the door at an engagement in a small town in rural Saskatchewan.

He was happy to see me—happy that I had made the several-hour trip, the last part over gravel roads—but his question suggested that if I was a reader that I might as well turn over my notes and head back home while he delivered my talk.

He was not being rude...just wanted to ensure that I understood that people expected to be engaged with the talk history, but in a way that made people want to stay, want to learn what happened next, want to shake their heads or laugh out loud, and especially ask questions and talk about the topic.

After all, my host was part of a generation who grew up listening to Tommy Douglas – for hours. But Tommy also knew his limits. Before speaking, he would take off his watch and place it on the podium. Tommy Douglas knew that the bum could not absorb as much as the brain.

Being a speaker, and not a reader, has been one of the tools in my public history arsenal for almost four decades now...and it has taken me places.

One of the highlights was a centennial event in a small village on a hot July day. After the beef-on-a-bun supper, I was the warm-up act before the talent show.

Let me start by thanking Canada’s History Society for this special recognition. I’m deeply honoured, still a bit gobsmacked, and extremely grateful.

I’m not an overnight sensation.

And I now know how Maple Leaf fans might feel if Toronto was ever to win the Stanley Cup again. I have many people to thank, but not enough time.

I want to thank my letter writers...I have many good friends, across a range of professions, and they have always been generous in helping me become a better public historian on radio or TV, in print media and the web, or on the road.

I also want to thank all the people who came up to hear me all kinds of venues in all kinds of weather.

Finally, my family has always been supportive and encouraging over the many years–some are here for this event. My bride Marley–43 years and counting–helped make this award possible. 

I'd like to offer you some advice: if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.

In closing, I want to congratulate all the other award winners, congratulations, and once again, express my deep gratitude. Merci.