2023 Whistler Independent Book Award Winners
October 31st, 2023
Tom Stewart (at right) has won The Whistler Independent Book Award for Fiction for his first novel, Immortal North (Lucky Dollar Media $23.99). The story follows a man known as the trapper and his son navigating a rugged life in a remote forest in the North. They face familiar threats in the wilderness, such as harsh weather, predators and the intrusion of civilization at odds with their lifestyle. One day, their woodland life is shattered prompting a quest for justice. This captivating narrative explores the profound bonds of human love while grappling with the dueling forces of life: joy and suffering, good and evil, and compassion and vengeance. In the words of the Whistler Independent Book Awards judges for the fiction category, Darcie Friesen Hossack and Amber Cowie, “. . . the story of a northern fur trapper and his young son is all at once philosophical and contemplative, stark, gentle, lyrical, brutal, and astonishingly full of the mysteries of love, life, fatherhood, and the natural world . . . Tom Stewart is an author who knows how to colour a world out of the dark.”
“I am a university drop-out turned fishing and hunting guide, bush-plane pilot, and poker player,” says Stewart, who has never taken a writing course. He was also the finalist in the 2022 Chanticleer International Book Awards for Literary Fiction and the 2022 Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book. Stewart grew up near Winnipeg and studied literature and philosophy at the University of Manitoba. He now lives in Tofino.
The Whistler Independent Book Award for Non-fiction was awarded to Chief Robert Joseph, a globally recognized peacebuilder and Hereditary Chief of the Gwawaenuk People, for his profound book, Namwayut – We Are All One: A Pathway to Reconciliation (Page Two $29.95). He recounts his life journey, from surviving a residential school in his childhood to becoming a leader who inspires hope, change and global transformation. Reconciliation is the central theme, representing a path toward our better selves, where everyone’s importance is recognized. Chief Joseph’s teachings in Namwayut encourage us to transform our relationships, honor the truth in our stories and break down walls of discrimination, hatred and racism. As one of the few remaining first-language speakers of Kwak’wala, he blends Indigenous wisdom with a vision for a better future for all of us. Judges J.J. Lee and Sonja Larsen commented that, “your courage in sharing your own story, as well as the historical and cultural context you provide, deepened our understanding of Indigenous world views as well as the strength and fierce resistance required to survive the institutions and attitudes of colonialism. This was a book that felt like it was full of big ideas, but also a deep appreciation for the many small steps that make up change.” Chief Robert Joseph was appointed as an Officer of Canada in 2017. He is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from Indspire and was appointed as an Officer to The Order of British Columbia. He is also the recipient of the 2016 Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Award. He is currently the Ambassador for Reconciliation Canada and the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, Chairman of the National Assembly of First Nations Elder Council, and Special Advisor to both Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Indian Residential School Resolutions Canada.
“The Little Girl is a moving and enlightening picture book with a powerful ending. It’s the type of book that when readers finish, they let out a little cheer. The images are perfect for the text and wonderfully capture how it must feel to be in a new country and not completely accepted,” stated Arthur Slade and Sarah Leach, the judges who jointly selected The Little Girl (FriesenPress $22.49) as The Whistler Independent Book Award for Children’s Books. Written by H. Pham-Fraser, the story is inspired by the real experiences of a Vietnamese refugee family and the narrative follows a little girl who arrives at a new home where a piece of her name is gradually taken away, first by a border guard and then by a teacher at her new school. This new place is both beautiful and frightening, and she faces the challenge of learning various skills in a foreign language. She works diligently every day, but doubts linger about whether she will ever be good enough and how she is going to tackle all these changes without her name. The story highlights the unintended consequences of well intentioned actions, such as anglicizing foreign names for the convenience of those in power, while exploring the impact on an individual’s well-being when their identity is erased or altered. Pham-Fraser has worked as an educator for over twenty-five years. She has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in education, a diploma in English Language Learning, and certificates in special education and reading intervention. She has taught every grade from preschool to university, and currently works as a school administrator in the Metro Vancouver area.