GOLDEN STATUES GALORE: An (In)complete Guide to Canadian Film/TV Awards

“To me, awards are meaningless” fictional thespian Cameron Drake (played by real-life actor Matt Dillon) quips to an interviewer in the 1997 comedy In & Out. “All the nominees are artists. We shouldn’t be forced to compete like dogs”. The reporter notes that Drake has a point, but feels compelled to ask why the actor has then decided to attend the Academy Awards where this red carpet interview is taking place. “In case I win!” Drake replies with a smile.

The Oscars, the Golden Globes, and other arts & entertainment award shows are often dismissed by some as garish displays of the wealthy fawning over each other while giving out golden statues. This attitude can certainly be forgiven at a surface glance, but for those of us who make a living in the arts, these awards are the closest we can get to something like the Super Bowl or the Olympic Games. A chance for the best-of-the-best in various fields from the more-visible acting, cinematography, and production design to the less-visible film editing and sound mixing to be honoured for the countless hours of hard work and dedication that go into rendering dreams on the screen.

The American and British film awards seasons have largely wrapped up at the time of this writing, the champagne long since run dry and red carpets rolled up. But here in Canada, awards season is just getting started with the marquee Canadian Screen Awards set to be given out this week, culminating in a broadcast on CBC this Sunday. They’ll be far from the only statues given out to Canadian film and TV professionals as a plethora of other organisations including the Writers Guild are set to honour the best and brightest in this industry in a series of in-person ceremonies, many for the first time since a certain viral event forced many to go virtual after 2019.

So in honour of the 11th annual Canadian Screen Awards, I’m profiling 10 Canadian Film & TV awards, both present and past, that have recognized the talent of our various filmmakers for decades and will hopefully continue to do so for many more to come!

The Majors


(L-R) Chairman H.L. Keenleyside, Host Hon. Robert Winters, and filmmaker F.R. Crawley

The granddaddy of all future Canadian screen awards shows was the brainchild of the Canadian Association for Adult Education which recognized the value and influence of film in the association’s objectives and saw fit to establish awards for the medium with the goals of recognizing creative effort and raising standards in the field.

A committee was struck to organise the first awards which included James Beveridge from the National Film Board, Donald Buchanan from the National Gallery, and maverick Canadian filmmaker F. R. Crawley. After considering names such as the Maple Leaf or North Star Awards, the organisers settled on the plain, but descriptive “Canadian Film Awards”.

The first ceremony took place on April 27, 1949 at the Little Elgin Theatre in Ottawa and was hosted by Federal Minister of Reconstruction and Supply Robert Winters. A five-member panel of jurors screened 29 films (almost all shorts as only one feature, Québec’s A Man and His Sin was made in Canada the qualifying year!), and ultimately gave awards to nine with three receiving honourable mentions. Winners didn’t receive statues, but paintings by Canadian artists (after the third ceremony, budget concerns would downgrade the award to a certificate).

This first ceremony was a small, intimate affair compared to the Oscars, but proved popular with the Canadian film industry which appreciated the recognition. Future ceremonies would be held in Ottawa and Montreal before settling in Toronto, home to the lion’s share of Canadian Film and TV awards and would be hosted by such celebrities as Mary Pickford (1951), Wayne & Shuster (1964), Leslie Nielsen (1971), and even sitting Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent (1950)!

A sea change occurred in 1968 when the event’s original sponsors, including the aforementioned Canadian Association for Adult Education and the Canadian Film Institute, decided to end their association with the awards. A new committee was struck consisting mainly of craft guilds (DGC, CSC, etc.) to continue the awards and in the process, revamped almost all aspects of the awards presentation including judging, fundraising, promotion, and even the award itself which now became a proper trophy designed by acclaimed sculptor Sorel Etrog.

More change followed a decade later when the unprecedented boom in Canadian Film production of the 1970s (aka, the “Tax Shelter” years), earned Canada the nickname “Hollywood North” for the first time and a desire by the award’s organisers to finally add some glamour to their humble event.

ACTRA AWARDS (1972-1986)

These trophies may themselves be deserving of an award for most….unique design shall we say. Designed by Bill McElcheran and nicknamed “Nellies”, these statues were given out by the Association of Canadian Television and Radio Artists to their members for achievement in both radio and television.

The awards were plagued during their relatively short existence by both a “Nellie Curse” where recent winners ended up fired or having their shows cancelled and by a CTV boycott in 1980 whereby the awards were accused of being biased towards CBC, which tended to work more with ACTRA members than other networks. The awards were ultimately retired upon the commencement of the Gemini Awards,

In 2003, the “Nellies” were revived in a slimmer version for presentation by ACTRA’s regional chapters, which continue to this day.

GENIE AWARDS (1980-2012)

Graduating to academy-style glamour and a live broadcast on the CBC, the Canadian Film Awards retained the same statue, but now under a new name: the “Genie”, which according to the newly-formed Academy of Canadian Cinema was meant to symbolise “the magic of filmmaking and the hidden genie seeking expression in all creative people”.

The event would essentially be Canada’s Oscars going forward, pumping as much glitz and glamour as the Academy’s budget would allow. Ceremonies took place almost exclusively in Toronto, but would occasionally venture outside the 416 area code to such far-flung locales as the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga (1999), the Société Radio-Canada Studio 42 in Montreal (1993, 1996) and even the Canadian Aviation Museum in Ottawa (2009). Hosts were the creme-de-la-creme of Canadian screen entertainment including Bruno Gerussi, Leslie Nielsen, Andrea Martin, and William Shatner.

Unfortunately, these awards registered very little for those outside the industry as the films were little-seen by the Canadian public compared to better-known Canadian TV shows. So for the 2013 edition, the Academy decided it was time to evolve the awards once more.

GEMINI AWARDS (1986-2011)

After the failure of the Bijou Awards and the continuing industry dissatisfaction with the ACTRA Awards, the Academy of Canadian Cinema expanded its mandate to include television in 1985 and one year later, the Gemini Awards were born, in both English and French editions (see below for the latter).

These unique trophies designed by Scott Thornley to honour the dual English and French TV industries were given to an expanding list of categories which included all manner of TV programming including Scripted, Lifestyle, News, Sports, Animation, and Music Videos.

Unlike its Toronto-based brethren, this awards ceremony dared to roam the country at times, hosting awards in such places as the River Rock Casino in Richmond (2006), Conexus Art Centre in Regina (2007), and the Stampede Corral in Calgary (2009).

Ceremonies were overseen by such luminaries including Steve Smith, Martin Short, the late Cory Monteith with the final edition hosted by comedian Russel Peters.


This year: April 11-14, 2023 @ Meridian Hall, Toronto

This ultimate amalgamation of the aforementioned Genie and Gemini Awards was the brainchild of then-Academy CEO Helga Stephenson and board chair Martin Katz. Responding to industry concerns that the previous awards had lost their lustre, the CSA’s made their debut in 2013 with a new statue and a healthy 756,000 viewer count for the ceremony hosted by Martin Short.

The event continues to the present with the latest edition taking place as part of “Canadian Screen Week” in Toronto as of this writing. After three virtual ceremonies in a row, the awards will finally be presented in-person again. But controversially,  TV audiences will only see a one hour highlight reel on CBC out of concern by organisers that a full-length ceremony wouldn’t be of interest to Canadians. Ratings will tell if this was the right call.

The Regionals

ROSIE AWARDS (1974-present)

This year: TBD (likely September like last year)

Presented by the Alberta Motion Picture Industries Association (AMPIA) since 1974, the Rosies are one of the oldest continual live ceremonies on this list, second only to the CSC Awards (see below). I suspect that the name is derived from Alberta’s provincial Wild Rose, but even AMPIA’s executive director Bill Evans was unable to confirm this before press time.

Awards are split into both “Class” (Unscripted Series, Feature/MOW, Production Reflecting Cultural Diversity) and “Craft” (Performances, Director, Screenwriter, Editor, etc.). Ceremonies are held alternately in Edmonton and Calgary with the latest ceremony taking place at Calgary’s Eaux Claire Market Cinema and hosted by Ryan Belleville.

LEO AWARDS (1999-present)

This year: July 7-9, 2023 @ Hyatt Regency Hotel, Vancouver

The lone awards ceremony on this list that I have actually attended, having covered both the 2018 and 2019 events. These lovely glass-Lion trophies have been presented by the Motion picture Arts & Sciences Foundation of British Columbia since 1999 to honour BC-based film professionals across three nights. As a working film editor, I hope to attend again as a nominee in a near-future year.

The awards are given out over three nights, usually at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Vancouver. Past hosts have included Carmen Moore, Gary Jones, Brent Butt, and Nancy Roberston

The Crafts

CSC AWARDS (1957-present)

This year: May 6, 2023 @ Arcadian Court, Toronto

The longest continually running awards on this list, the CSC awards honour the craft of cinematography across a multitude of forms including Theatrical features, Dramatic Series, Half-Hour Series, Music Videos, and Commercials.

Ceremonies have taken place at venues such as Westin Harbour Castle and the Sheraton Centre Hotel in Toronto and have been hosted by Carolyn Wong, Rick Roberts, and Sheila McCarthy.


This year: Monday, April 24, 2023 @ Koerner Hall, Toronto

Initially dubbed the “Canadian Screenwriting Awards”, these pencil-encircled globes have been given out to the folks whom without, no other filmmaking craft may proceed: the humble screenwriter.

Categories include not only the usual Feature, MOW/Mini-series, and Dramatic TV, but also awards for Preschool and Children’s programming as well. Almost exclusively housed at Toronto’s Koerner Hall, the ceremony has been hosted by Ryan Belleville, Gavin Crawford, and will be presented this year by Vance Banzo.

CCE AWARDS (2011-present)

This year: May 15, 2023 @ the Delta Hotel, Toronto

Among the more recently inaugurated awards on this list, these lovely glass maple-leafs are distributed to those who show excellence in Canadian film editing, a still underappreciated, yet vital component of the filmmaking toolbox.

Features, TV series, Lifestyle/Reality, Student Productions, all forms of media editing are honoured at the ceremony which has taken place at both the Capitol Event Centre and Delta Hotel in Toronto. The ceremony has traditionally been hosted by legendary film critic Richard Crouse, but will have the torch passed this year to comedian Elvira Kurt.

Honourable Mentions

PRIX IRIS (1999-present)

Awards honouring francophone cinema (although work by Quebec craftspeople and artists on anglophone productions like 2015’s Brooklyn are also eligible). Previously named the Jutra Awards until the namesake’s pedophilia was brought to light in 2016.

PRIX GÉMEAUX (1987-present)

The Gemini awards and their statue live on in this francophone edition. For my Québécois readers, I promise both of you that I’ll do a more thorough profile of these last two awards in the next edition of this article (if any)


Unique in that they were presented only once, the Bijou Awards were an attempt by the Academy to honour the categories not carried over in the transition from the Canadian Film Awards to the Genies, particularly those for Made-for-Television movies. Due to bureaucratic finangling and the competing ACTRA awards, the Bijou’s never survived beyond their first gala.


Probably the only awards ceremony on this list you’d refrain from having your parents tune into, these butt plug-shaped trophies were organised by the Toronto-based “Good For Her” adult store with the goal of expanding the boundaries of sexual representation in film, particularly concerning the sexuality of women and marginalised people. As far as this writer can tell, the awards have been on hiatus since last given out in 2015.

This year’s Canadian Screen Awards will be broadcast in a highlight package on Sunday, April 16 at 8pm PST on CBC

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