Renowned actor William Shatner, dancer Margie Gillis and director Denis Villeneuve were among eight honoured for their contributions to performing arts by Governor General David Johnston Saturday night.

The 19th annual Governor General's Performing Arts Award winners were celebrated at a gala at the NAC, after receiving their awards Friday night at Rideau Hall.

Awards co-chair Douglas Knight said the night was a chance to honour one of Canada's other national passions.

"Canada defines itself as a sports nation, but globally we are an arts nation," he said. "Twice as many people buy tickets to the arts as all sport put together."

The six laureates honoured for lifetime artistic achievement were:

- Star Trek and The Practice actor Shatner;

- Modern dance pioneer Gillis;

- Oscar, Genie and Grammy-winning composer Howard Shore, whose work includes the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Crash.

- Quebec humourist and monologuist Yvon Deschamps

- Internationally-reknowned youth theatre director Leslee Silverman

- Former Director General of the National Theatre School of Canada, Paul Thompson

Two other honourees were the Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Voluntarism in the Performing Arts winner, Jean-André élie with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal.

The National Arts Centre award for exceptional achievement over the past performance year has been given to director Villeneuve, whose film Incendies was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

The winners said they were proud to be part of such a group of honourees.

"It's a great honour, its wonderful to be among the other laureates," said Shore. "A wonderful group."

"I'm gobsmacked," said Silverman. "All those days in vans and working with inadequate materials, and here you are."

Also appearing at the gala were director David Cronenberg, who has worked with Shore on 13 films, author Michael Ondaatje to honour Paul Thompson, and Quebec comedians Martin Matte and Benoît Brière.

It was hosted by Bon Cop, Bad Cop actor Colm Feore, who did the same for 2010's awards.

A series of short films were created by the National Film Board for the laureates, which can be seen at the NFB website.

With a report from CTV Ottawa's Alyshah Hasham