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Acadian artist Viola Leger says several people have contributed to her success over the years. (Kate Letterick/CBC)

A well-known Acadian artist has been named a recipient of the 2013 Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards.

Viola Léger will be presented with the Lifetime Artistic Achievement award, a $25,000 cash prize, by Governor-General David Johnston in Ottawa on May 31.

Léger is best known for playing the humble Acadian cleaning woman on stage in La Sagouine, having performed the role more than 2,500 times since 1971.

But she is also a writer, an educator and a supporter of Acadian culture.

"She has made an enduring creative contribution in both English and French, and is a passionate ambassador for Acadian culture in Canada and around the world," according to the awards website.

Léger said she was surprised and honoured by the news, announced Wednesday via a live broadcast from Montreal, which she watched from the National Film Board's office in Moncton.

But she was quick to credit the many people who have helped her become successful over the years.

'If I'm being decorated right now it’s because of everybody else — the public number one.'—Viola Léger, actress

"Together," stressed Léger. "We don't do anything alone."

"So if I'm being decorated right now it’s because of everybody else — the public number one. So yes, it's been wonderful."

Léger became an actress almost by accident, when Antonine Maillet invited her to play the lead in La Sagouine.

"The only thing I can take credit for is saying yes — and continuing to say yes," she said.

Léger has performed the role in Canada, the United States and France, winning rave reviews for her "authentic and engaging portrayal," the awards website states. Since 1993 she has spent her summers at Le Pays de la Sagouine in Bouctouche, N.B., where she appears in character.

She has also appeared in plays by, among others, Michel Tremblay, Michel Garneau, Tennessee Williams, and Federico García Lorca, and her performance in Tom Ziegler’s Grace and Gloria earned her the 2001 "Masque" award from the Quebec Theatre Critics’ Association for Best Actress.

In 1985, she founded her own theatre company, La Compagnie Viola Léger, which she directed until 2008, and in 1999 she established the Viola Léger Foundation to support theatre production and professional training for Acadian theatre artists.

7 others being honoured

Other recipients of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards for Lifetime Artistic Achievement this year include:

  • Andrew Dawes, first violinist of Canada’s internationally acclaimed Orford String Quartet and a teacher and mentor to young musicians.
  • Daniel Lanois, a Hamilton, Ont-born musician who produced for Bob Dylan, Brian Eno, U2, Neil Young and Emmylou Harris and is a respected guitarist and recording artist.
  • Jean Pierre Lefebvre, an independent filmmaker responsible for more than 30 features and short films, including Les fleurs sauvages, a 1982 film which won a critics’ prize at Cannes.
  • Menaka Thakkar, an Indian classical dancer and choreographer and artistic director of Menaka Thakkar Dance Co.
  • Eric Peterson, an actor known for TV series Corner Gas and This is Wonderland and for theatre hit Billy Bishop Goes to War.

In addition, Jean Pierre Desrosier, who has led fund-raising campaigns for the arts in Montreal, including Centaur Theatre and Théâtre du Rideau Vert, wins the Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for voluntarism in the performing arts.

Actor-director Sarah Polley, star of Slice and Road to Avonlea, will receive the National Arts Centre Award which celebrates achievement over the past year.

All of the laureates will be honoured on June 1 at a ceremony at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.