Don Gillmor is a Canadian journalist, novelist, historian and writer of children’s books, and is the recipient of many awards for this journalism and fiction.
Gillmor’s writing has appeared in Saturday Night, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, Rolling Stone, GQ, National Geographic, Toronto Life and The Walrus, where he worked as senior editor. He also served on the faculty of the Literary Journalism Program at the Banff Centre.
Gillmor’s magazine writing has earned him three gold and seven silver Canadian National Magazine Awards, and he has been called “one of Canada’s most celebrated profile writers”. In 2014, he won a National Newspaper Award for an article on baby boomers and suicide.
Gillmor is the author of three works of fiction: Kanata (2009), a Canadian historical epic, Mount Pleasant (2013), a comic novel about debt and Long Change (2015), which explores the life of an oilman (Gillmor worked on an oil rig in the late 1970s). He’s also written five books of non-fiction, including the two-volume work Canada: A People’s History, which accompanied the award-winning television program of the same name, and won the 2001 Libris Award for non-fiction book of the year.] Among his nine children’s books are Yuck, A Love Story (2000), which won the 2000 Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature, and The Fabulous Song (1996), which won the Mr. Christie Book Award.
Gillmor graduated from the University of Calgary with a B.A. in 1977. He currently resides in Toronto.
In 2019 he won the Governor General’s Award for English-language non-fiction for his book To the River: Losing My Brother.
Long before I ever met Don Gillmor, even before his own writing and publishing career began, I was friends with his mother, Donna Gillmour. When I moved to Calgary in 1978 and began working in a bookstore, Donna was one of the first sales reps who came to see me, and we became good friends, surviving through my several moves of houses and bookstores over that next decade. I also got to know Don’s father Doug during that time, but never actually met “Donnie” as his mother referred to him. Then when Donna decided to retire from repping she recommended me to replace her, and I will be forever grateful for her confidence in me! Donna didn’t retire completely from the business, though, as she partnered with Marilyn Wood to offer publicity services in Calgary for all the publishers. I got to meet a great number of authors who I didn’t necessarily represent, all because of my close connection with Donna and Marilyn. I was a sales rep for Groundwood Books when they published Don Gillmor’s children’s book, The Trouble With Justine. Still, in all that time, I never met Don. I’d hear about him – a lot! – because his parents were understandably proud of his achievements, and I also heard many of the family stories and about a few of his “escapades” while he was growing up. Donna particularly laughed when she told me about an article Don had just published in one of the Canadian magazines that was about wanting cowboy boots when he was a kid. His mother had bought him saddle shoes by mistake, thinking “cowboy/saddle” – same thing! Oh, the embarrassment! So Don hid those shoes in the one place he knew his mother would never look … the vacuum cleaner box! (I always loved that story, but especially for the way Donna told me about it, and how she laughed over that clever son who had known her so well.)
So, even after a decades-long friendship with his parents, I never got to meet Don in person until we were both in Calgary at the same time for Canadian Thanksgiving, Oct. 2015 – me to speak at the library and he as a guest at Wordfest for his novel, Long Change. I was invited to join the Gillmor family and their friends for a wonderful dinner … and I had the chance to meet and speak with Don, finally!
Then this past May when I returned to Calgary to take care of some personal business there, I was unable to connect with Donna and Doug. Their phone number had been disconnected and I couldn’t find a new listing for them. I had dinner with my good friend Judy Gardner, another long-time friend from the book business who knew the Gillmors well, and we spoke of the family. Judy handed me a hardcover copy of the new book Don had just published and I took it back with me to Ontario. I cried when I read this exploration of his brother’s suicide, because really, for me, this was the story of his family, people who I had known so well and for such a long time. This account was so well-written that I predicted at the time it would win prizes, so I was not at all surprised when Don received the 2019 Governor General’s Literary Award for non-fiction. For me though, what I loved most about this book is how I was able to reconnect, through the story, with people who had been a big part of my life. Thanks for that, Don!
To the River
The Governor General’s Literary award-winning exploration of suicide in which one of Canada’s most gifted writers attempts to understand why his brother took his own life. Which leads him to another powerful question: Why are boomers killing themselves at a far greater rate than the Silent Generation before them or the generations that have followed?
In the spring of 2006, Don Gillmor travelled to Whitehorse to reconstruct the last days of his brother, David, a talented musician whose truck and cowboy hat had been found at the edge of the Yukon River. David’s family, his wife and his friends had different theories about his disappearance. Some thought he had run away; some thought he’d met with foul play; but most believed that David, who at forty-eight was about to give up the night life for a day job, had intentionally walked into the water. Just as Don was about to paddle the river looking for traces, David’s body was recovered. And Don’s canoe trip turned into an act of remembrance and mourning.
Though David could now be laid to rest, there was no rest for his survivors. In this tender, probing, surprising work, Don Gillmor helps those left behind understand why people kill themselves and how to live with the aftermath. And he asks why, for the first time, it’s not the teenaged or the elderly who have the highest suicide rate, but the middle aged. Especially men.
For more information about Don Gillmor, his writing, journalism, and his books, please see his website.
Don Gillmor was featured once on my Reading Recommendations blog in Oct. of 2015.