10/17/2014 03:37 EDT | Updated 12/17/2014 05:59 EST

Toronto's True Murder Story Wins the City's Top Book Award

Ottawa author Charlotte Gray is the winner of the 2014 Toronto Book Award for her non-fiction book, The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked a Country. She is 40th author to capture Toronto's annual literature prize. Gray's $10,000 win was announced at last night's award ceremony, held at the downtown Toronto Reference Library.

"I offer my warm congratulations to Charlotte Gray, who has drawn an unforgettable portrait of Toronto's social life at the beginning of the 20th century," said Acting City Librarian Anne Bailey. "In telling the true story of Carrie Davies, the maid who shot a (famed) Massey, Charlotte Gray captures the class conflict and societal upheaval that marked our city's reinvention of itself at the onset of the Great War. As the author notes: 'A single bullet fired on Walmer Road had an extraordinary significance.'"

"In 1915 Toronto thought of itself as 'Toronto the Good' but by our standards it was very far from the good," explained Charlotte Gray. "It was a city that had grown enormously in the last decade (since the year 1900 ). It had doubled in population, but it was a very class ridden society with the elite at top that totally believed it was absolutely right, and with a surge in working class immigration at the bottom, mainly from Britain. These were people who were determined to make a new life in the new world, and were escaping from the British class system."


"Bert Massey (the murdered man) was known as a man-about-town," she continued. "He was somebody who had a diamond stick pin in his tie, he liked driving fast cars, and he was very representative of the young men of that period who got away with what they could get away with. By our standards his behaviour was unacceptable because he sexually harassed and tried to seduce this 18-year old servant. In his day it was sort of seen as something that young men men did. What was surprising is not that he had played around with an 18-year-old but that the Masseys had employed a young woman who had access to a gun and knew how to fire it."


The Toronto Award caps off a spectacular year for Gray's 9th book. It won the Canadian Authors Association Lela Common Award for Canadian History; was long-listed for the B.C. Non-fiction Award, and shortlisted for both the Charles Taylor Award and the Evergreen Award. Based on the success of the Massey Murder in 2014 she was also short-listed as "Author of the Year" by the Canadian Booksellers Association. She has been a judge for several of Canada's most prestigious literary prizes, including the Giller Prize for Fiction, the Charles Taylor Prize for Non-Fiction and the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Toronto Book Awards. Established by Toronto City Council in 1974, the Toronto Book Awards honour authors of books of literary or artistic merit that are evocative of Toronto. Each shortlisted author receives $1,000 and the winning author receives $10,000 in prize money.

This year the Toronto Book Awards Committee looked at 70 entry before deciding on a short-list of five titles. The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked a Country was chosen from a list of finalists that included Anthony De Sa for his novel, Kicking The Sky; Carrianne K. Y. Leung for her novel, The Wondrous Woo; Nick Saul and Andrea Curtis for their social science, agriculture and food book The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement; and Shyam Selvadurai for his novel, The Hungry Ghosts.

Earlier this year Elizabeth Gray was interviewed by videographer George Soca. A resulting six minute video was used by Huffington Post in its coverage of the RBC Taylor Prize (formerly the Charles Taylor Prize For Literary Non-Fiction. In the video the author talks about impact the Massey Murder had upon Toronto's upper and lower classes in the days of the First World War.