Andrew Westoll has won the $25,000 Charles Taylor Prize for his book The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, which depicts research chimps as they live out the remainder of their lives in a Quebec animal sanctuary.

The award for the best Canadian work of non-fiction published in 2011 was announced Monday in Toronto.

Toronto-based Westoll, a former primatologist, dedicated his win to the chimps he met when researching the book.

He became very attached to each of the animals in the months he spent volunteering at the sanctuary, and the strong feelings remain, he said during the award ceremony.

"This is why I write, so I can remember and experience my time with them again," he said. "I remember them all the time."

"They welcomed me into their world so warmly – well, some of them threw stuff at me," he added.

Recalling the experience later, he said Binky, who had "aim like a major-league pitcher," was most likely to score a hit when he threw things.

A portion of book proceeds already goes to the Fauna Sanctuary, outside Montreal, and Westoll pledged to make a contribution from his winnings toward the chimps.

"I'd like to bring more awareness — no one knew there was a chimp sanctuary on the South Shore of Montreal," he said.

Earlier this year, The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary was up for the $40,000 B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction.


The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary by Andrew Westoll. (HarperCollins)

The Taylor jury — Stevie Cameron, Susan Renouf and Allan Brandt — hailed the non-fiction work for both its literary qualities and its absorbing science.

"Westoll deftly draws the reader into the wild day-to-day ride of life with the Fauna chimps and soon their 'otherness' falls away," the jury said in its citation.

"Through his lens, the chimps are revealed as the individuals they are, with all their foibles, damage and possibility — and the reader’s world view shifts on its axis. Heart-rending and heart-warming, this is a stunning and important work of art and documentary and science."

The other finalists, each of whom wins $2,000, are:

  • Wade Davis for Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest, published by Knopf Canada.
  • Charlotte Gill for Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber, and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe, published by Greystone Books in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation.
  • J.J. Lee for The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit, published by McClelland & Stewart.
  • Madeline Sonik for Afflictions & Departures: Essays, published by Anvil Press.

The prize is named for the late Charles Taylor, one of Canada's foremost essayists, a foreign correspondent and a writer who hoped to raise the public profile of non-fiction.