Canada Reads

20 facts you might not know about Canada Reads

As Canada Reads heads into its 20th season, we've gathered some interesting trivia about the show.

As Canada Reads heads into its 20th season, we've gathered some interesting trivia about the show.

The 2021 debates will take place March 8-11. Stay tuned for more details!

1. Comedian Mary Walsh hosted the inaugural season of Canada Reads in 2002.

2. Michael Ondaatje's novel In The Skin of a Lion was the first winner of Canada Reads. It was defended by Steven Page, a founding member of the Barenaked Ladies.

3. Margaret Atwood is the only author to have had three books on Canada Reads — all of them backed by politicians. Kim Campbell defended The Handmaid's Tale in 2002, Olivia Chow championed Oryx and Crake in 2005 and Stephen Lewis fought for The Year of the Flood in 2014. None of her books have ever won Canada Reads.

4. Two Canadian prime ministers have been Canada Reads panellists: Justin Trudeau, who defended Wayne Johnston's novel The Colony of Unrequited Dreams in 2003 and Kim Campbell, who championed The Handmaid's Tale in 2002.

5. Justin Trudeau is the only Canada Reads panellist to ever vote against his own book, casting a deciding ballot in 2003 in support of Hubert Aquin's Next Episode instead of his own pick, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams

Before he was elected Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau was a panellist on Canada Reads. He made history on the show when he became the first panellist to vote against his own book.

6. Ali Hassan is Canada Reads's sixth host. He is a comedian who hosts CBC Radio's Laugh Out Loud.

7. Wab Kinew is the only Canada Reads host who has also been a panellist. In 2014 he championed Joseph Boyden's novel The Orenda and in 2015 he was on the other end of the table, moderating a debate which saw Cameron Bailey emerge victorious in defence of Kim Thúy's Ru

8. Canada Reads 2007 was an "all-stars" year, where the five previous winners returned to the debates. They were Weakerthans lead John K. Samson, Barenaked Ladies' co-founder Steven Page, journalist and writer Denise Bombardier, Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy and Newfoundland novelist Donna Morrissey. 

9. The only other panellist to ever be on Canada Reads twice is opera singer Measha Brueggergosman, who defended The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro in 2004 and Company Town by Madeline Ashby in 2017.

10. Two panellists have withdrawn from the show due to scheduling conflicts. Tamara Taylor and Rufus Wainwright withdrew in 2017 and 2015, respectively. Measha Brueggergosman took Taylor's spot to defend Company Town by Madeline Ashby, while Molly Johnson stepped in for Wainwright to defend Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen.

11. John K. Samson is the only Canada Reads panellist to have won the debates twice. He took home top honours in consecutive years — defending Miriam Toews's A Complicated Kindness in 2006 and Heather O'Neill's Lullabies for Little Criminals in 2007. 

An overhead shot of Day Three of Canada Reads 2020. (CBC )

12. Three Canada Reads panellists have also had their work championed on the show. Nalo Hopkinson defended George Elliott Clarke's Whylah Falls in 2002 and in 2008 her own novel Brown Girl in the Ring was backed by hip-hop poet, Jemini. Lisa Moore defended Mavis Gallant's From the Fifteenth District in 2008 and her own novel February won the Canada Reads debates in 2013 with comedian Trent McLellan in its corner. And in 2008, Dave Bidini won the debates defending Paul Quarrington's King Leary, while his own book On a Cold Road was championed by fashion model Stacey McKenzie in 2012. 

13. 2012 was the first year Canada Reads featured nonfiction titles. The theme was "true stories" and the winning book was the memoir Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter by Carmen Aguirre. The book was defended by musician and broadcaster Shad. 

14. One poetry collection has been featured on Canada Reads. In 2006, Susan Musgrave defended Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets: Selected Poems, 1962-1996 by Al Purdy. One narrative poem has been featured on the show: in 2002, Nalo Hopkinson defended Whylah Falls by George Elliott Clarke.

15. The oldest book to ever be featured on Canada Reads is Rockbound by Frank Parker Day. It was originally published in 1928. Rockbound was defended by Donna Morrissey in 2005, and it was the winning book that year.

16. Nine books in translation have been featured on Canada Reads, and three have won. Next Episode by Hubert Aquin was successfully defended by Denise Bombardier in 2003, Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner won in 2010 when it was defended by Michel Vézina, and Ru by Kim Thúy was the winning title in 2015 when it was defended by Cameron Bailey.

17. At 18 years old, Canada Reads 2019 contender Abu Bakr al Rabeeah — storyteller of Chuck Comeau's chosen book, Homes — is the youngest person ever to have their work championed in the debates.

18. Musicians are excellent defenders. So far seven have won Canada Reads, two of whom were also broadcasters. Other winners include four (non-musician) broadcast journalists, one artistic director, a comedian, a professional clown, a writer and an athlete. Check out all the winners here.

19. Two YA books have been featured on Canada ReadsJully Black defended The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline in 2018 and Elaine "Lainey" Lui defended When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid in 2015. Both of these books are also Governor General's Literary Award winners.

20. Lawrence Hill is the only author whose books have won Canada Reads twice. In 2009, documentary filmmaker and activist Avi Lewis successfully championed his novel The Book of Negroes and in 2016 Olympian Clara Hughes took his novel The Illegal to victory.

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