Results of the 2017 Spine Online Writing Awards

Georgia Award for Best Blog

Judged by: Colin O'Connell


Colin O’Connell has taught Business and Professional Writing at college and university levels. He has also served as a Senior Marketing Communications Manager for some of the largest telecommunications companies in the world. Colin is the author and editor of several books, as well as numerous scholarly articles. He has a Ph.D. in the Humanities.


Winner: Allison Van Maren
That One Time I Fought a Unicorn

Van Maren’s blogs challenge us to reflect on the virtues of whimsy in our rigidly ordered world. She invites us into a world of simple abundance where the unfamiliar washes over us. For those of us prone to seriousness and fear of letting go, Van Maren’s blogs offer timely and sage advice. She helps us to see the mundane world differently, provides tips on how to do this, and writes with a compassion such that her path could be ours. Even better, the ease and fluency of Van Maren’s writing calms our souls. As we read her blogs, our world points beyond itself to a mysterious power of whimsy and play—a source we all can tap. Her own words sum it up best: “We ourselves are proof of the extraordinary. Perhaps all that dreams do is show us a glimpse of what reality can be.”


Honourable Mention: Joe Fitzgerald
Beer and Loathing

Fitzgerald’s blogs give new life to restaurant reviews. Humorous, insightful, and informative, Fitzgerald puts himself in his readers’ shoes, asks their questions, and gives them the answers they are looking for and want. Whether it’s the cuisine, the ambience, or the clientele, Fitzgerald covers it all in his entertaining reviews. But there’s more than this. In his reviews, we feel that the insights are coming from a person embedded in the local dining scene—who has deep connections with Ottawa’s neighbourhoods. That makes for reviews that readers can trust. Above all, we get the feeling Fitzgerald has as much fun writing his reviews as we do in reading them.

Optima Award for Best Professional Writer

Winner: Chris Campeau


Chris Campeau is a writer and lover of all things horror and strange. He has studied both Small Business and Professional Writing at Algonquin College and is now shooting for communications gold. When he’s not writing, he spends his time singing in punk bands, drinking a hop-heavy IPA, or lounging with his two Maine Coons—sometimes all simultaneously.  

Judges Comments

Collin O'Connell

Chris brings his natural enthusiasm to every writing project. He has a deep respect for his audience, understands and applies writing best practices, but is also willing to break the mould. He has been a vital force in the Algonquin Professional Writing Program, and has established a fine standard for overall excellence in writing.

Nadine McInnis

Chris Campeau exhibits an impressive dexterity of voice in his professional writing, being able to adapt effortlessly to format and voice according to the needs of the organization. Like all excellent communicators he is deft, strategic and adaptable.

Comic Sans Award for Best Humour

Judged by: Nadine McInnis


Nadine McInnis is the author of eight books, including her most recent collection of poetry, Delirium For Solo Harp. She’s published widely in magazines in Canada and is a past winner of a CBC literary award and the Ottawa Book Award. She joined the faculty of Algonquin College in 2006, after working as a policy analyst in the federal government, where she focused on the publishing industries in Canada.


Winner: Rob Sullivan
OC Transpo Raises Prices to Fund Time Travel Research

Rob Sullivan’s piece “OC Transpo Raises Prices to Fund Time Travel Research" does what the best humour is capable of doing: prodding monolithic power structures with razor-sharp exaggeration interwoven with reality. The frustration of ever-rising transit fares in the face of reductions of service is skillfully revealed by asserting that research into time-travel will fix all the ills of the local transit system. Buses will never be early or late again. In fact, time as we know it will dissolve entirely with this foray into nuclear research and partnership with cutting-edge international partners that allow OC Transpo to supersede the limits of space and time. Rob’s piece skewers corporate cheerleading for innovation and how unrealistic and absurd presented solutions can be. The buzzy concepts of today’s corporations are here: research, innovation, customer service, and lofty promises that can never be tangibly delivered.


Honourable Mention: Sam Chilton
Ronald McDonald Announces Retirement

Sam Chilton’s piece “Ronald McDonald Announces Retirement” skewers both contemporary corporate culture and the dark underbelly of popular culture. The good clown who has done his duty honourably for years suddenly finds himself in a time when creepy clowns are lurking in collective imagination and parks everywhere. His disillusionment and activitism on behalf of serious clowns faces a torrential wave of Happy Meals and charges of hypocrisy from other factions of the clown protest movement. Chilton’s view of society is complex and he doesn’t settle for a simple definition of who is the bad guy. His last image of the explosion of handkerchiefs emblazoned with golden arches flying across the boardroom is the perfect conclusion to a piece that doesn’t let anyone off the hook too easily.

Century Gothic Award for
Best Review

Judged by: Ian Roy


Ian Roy is the author of four books, including the short story collections, Meticulous, Sad and Lonely and People Leaving. The latter was shortlisted for both the City of Ottawa Book Award and the Upper Canada Writers’ Craft Award. Ian’s writing has appeared in magazines and journals across Canada. He has been teaching at Algonquin College since 2008.


Winner: Cody Lirette
Not So Divine: Sweet Jesus' Ice Cream Won't Make You Scream

I like my ice cream the same way I like my reviews: rich, smooth and delectable. So you can imagine how pleased I was to read Cody Lirette’s review of Sweet Jesus which begins with those very words. Cody’s review is playful and entertaining, while providing the reader with an appraisal more nuanced and poetic than I thought possible from a humble review of an ice cream shop.


Honourable Mention: Anna Moat
Poorly Written Advice From a Financial Guru

Judge’s Comment: Anna Moat’s review of The Recovering Spender is well written advice from a smart young writer. I especially liked how Anna set up a series of conditional statements, outlining each potentially positive element in the book with a pretty harsh but honest criticism. The misanthrope in me took great pleasure in that juxtaposition. And the parsimonious professor in me was grateful for the warning to save my money and not buy the book.

Helvetica Award for Best Personal Essay

Judged by: Sheree-Lee Olson

Sheree-Lee Olson worked for many years as an editor at The Globe and Mail. She is also an artist, and the author of award-winning short stories, poems, and the novel, Sailor Girl. 


Winner: Sam Chilton
You're at Your Best When You're at Your Worst

Sam Chilton’s essay about his troubled dad does what all great writing should; it shows rather than tells. Using humour to move the story forward, he creates a sympathetic portrait of a man in crisis, without having to share quite all of the gory details. The elliptical dialogue is sharp, the set pieces are hilarious, and we are left rooting for both father and son.


Honourable Mention: Joe Fitzgerald
Ode to Divorce

Joe Fitzgerald’s tale of young divorce is a refreshing reversal of the usual trope. The literary handling of this complicated situation is skillful, gently humorous and cleareyed.

Honourable Mention: Ashton Heaps 
Finding Your Family

Ashton Heaps’s account of his break with his family is both moving and admirably even-handed. His description of the immediate aftermath brings us directly into the family dynamic; and the hopeful conclusion displays wisdom and grace.

Times Award for Best Fiction

Judged by: Joanne Proulx

Joanne Proulx’s debut novel Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet, published internationally, was the recipient of Canada’s Sunburst Award for Fantastic Fiction, was named a debut of the year by The Globe and Mail, and was the first novel chosen for Algonquin Reads. The novel has been optioned for film by Sepia Films with Joanne acting as screenwriter. Joanne began teaching at Algonquin in 2014, has taught many writing workshops and is a personal writing mentor and editor. Joanne, who received her MFA from Bennington College, is currently finishing work on her second novel, And the Boys Will Play


Winner: Sam Chilton
Pathway Problem

Pathway Problems is story creatively constructed from snippets of correspondence between two Rocket.Chat users, .[lOSEr]. and ~marmar. In the sparest, tangiest of prose, the reader glimpses a friendship, a love story, a break up – who really knows? We’re never entirely certain of the relationship of these two on-line chatters, but it doesn’t matter. With conversations like these, how can we not want to listen in?


Honourable Mention: Myryam Ladouceur 

More spooky atmosphere than blood and guts horror, Joyride is a story chock-a-block with great detail, a well chosen setting and a worthy villain – rotten weather. In Joyride, an after-hours carnival is threatened by a building storm, the smell of candy floss and excess butter swept away by the storm’s bitter wind. Myryam’s story moves well - as the storm builds, so does the tension – and after a quick, climatic flourish, jumps to a satisfying denouement. Minus any gore and with only a single character – which breaks one of my short story writing rules, and proves you should never listen to anything I tell you - Myryam has written a creepy tale of horror worthy of a nod from Mr. King.

Winner: Amanda Simard

Amanda Simard not only excelled at what she was asked to do, but ended up mastering Squarespace, figuring out ways to make the production process run more smoothly, and supported fellow students with solutions to technical and logistical problems. Amanda did all this quietly and patiently and diligently, and at the same time, produced her own high-quality work for the website. I think we can all appreciate how hard that is to do, especially under the stress of deadlines, and occasional outbreaks of chaos and confusion. I think in future, Amanda is going to make a wonderful contribution to any team effort that comes along, and we are very happy that she offered her skills and talents to us. It was a pleasure to watch Amanda grow into such a integral role in what we were all trying to do

Goudy Old Style Award for Most Valuable Editor

Judges: Moira Farr and the entire 2017 graduating class

Honorable Mentions:
Chris Campeau
Anna Marie Moat
Stephen Smith