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At this time – and at the urging of Dr. Hubbard – the Governor General personally contacted the young sculptor John Matthews, then 28, and invited him to his office at Rideau Hall. His Excellency outlined his plans to honour the best of Canadian (public service) journalism and asked John to come up with a suitable idea for a trophy or statuette that would constitute the award.
Within a few weeks, and after experimenting with various wax and plaster models and a number of motifs, the sculptor settled on a concept. (Normally he worked in styrofoam and plaster – carving a rough form out of the styrofoam and then covering it with a light coat of plaster. Occasionally though, he worked in wax and clay). He returned to Rideau Hall to explain his proposal in detail to the Governor General.
The form was to be made of cast bronze – a rectangle plaque set on a white marble base. It was to be 9 inches in height.
Initially, the Governor General was surprised the award would be so large, but eventually he realized it would be displayed in different locations not just on an individual’s desk. The size had to be a compromise between too large or small. And as a sculpture in a tactile art form, it had to be easily lifted and handled.
On one side he would position antique typeface obtained from an old print shop and placed in a random pattern. These symbols were to represent newsprint and the written word. Also on the same side – an engraved inscription in Canada’s two official languages – The Michener Award for Journalism/Le Prix Michener du Journalisme.
On the other side of the award there would be a number of lines crossing each other and leading to a series of indentations which were to represent separate groups of people – suggesting communication by air waves and electronics.
The Governor General was delighted with the design and gave it his unreserved approval. An agreement was struck, a fee negotiated – the princely sum of $700.00 – and work on the trophy began in earnest. John marvelled at his good fortune. He had just received his very first sculpture commission.
Over the next few months, the bronze Michener award would become a reality. Ultimately, it would also grow in stature to become the most coveted award in Canadian journalism.
On November 8, 1971 at Rideau Hall, His Excellency, the Right Honourable Roland Michener, Governor General of Canada stood before invited guests to make the inaugural presentation of the Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. Two media organizations were being honoured during a morning ceremony. The newly minted Bronze Award was handed to Clive Baxter, representing the Financial Post, and then a twin accepted by producer Alan Erlich on behalf of CBC Television. And thus the Michener award was successfully launched. (see 1970 Award page)
Standing quietly and proudly in the background was the man who created ‘the bronze’ – John Matthews. There would be many more ceremonies and many more Bronze Awards handed out in the years to come.
For John Matthews this was only the beginning. There would be dozens of works and dozens of showings in galleries in Ottawa and Toronto. There would be commissioned works for Heritage Canada, the Public Archives in Ottawa, the Rideau club of Ottawa, the Ontario heritage Foundation, and the Royal Society of Canada. A travelling Sculptors Society Show would ship his creations internationally for display in London, Paris, Brussels and the USA.