When Peggy Baker learned that she was being awarded a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, she was surprised.

It wasn’t because the internationally acclaimed modern dancer, choreographer, teacher and arts advocate hadn’t been recognized many times before — the Toronto resident already has an Order of Ontario, an Order of Canada, several Toronto Arts Council Awards, four Dora Awards and an honorary doctorate to her name —but because time has flown by.

Baker got into dance late, she said. She was studying theatre at the University of Alberta when she found her calling at 19.

“I thought, I hadn’t been dancing for so long,” Baker said upon learning about the award. “But then I realized I’ve been dancing for 35 years. I’m 56 now.”

And this award “goes right to the top,” Baker said. “It feels thrilling and incredible and I’m deeply, deeply honoured. I knew for sure (dance) was going to be personally enriching, but the award is an acknowledgement that my personal journey as an artist has made some contribution to the larger community.”

Baker is one of eight prominent Canadian artists to be honoured this weekend with the coveted Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards in Ottawa.

In addition to Baker, this year’s recipients of the Lifetime Artistic Achievement awards include singer Edith Butler; Quebec writer, broadcaster, singer, actress and monologuist Clémence DesRochers; director, playwright, actor and filmmaker Robert Lepage; composer, educator, mentor and environmentalist R. Murray Schafer; and playwright, director and screenwriter George F. Walker.

The lifetime award is given to people who have engaged and inspired audiences throughout their careers.

James D. Fleck is this year’s recipient of the Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Voluntarism in the Performing Arts, while award-winning writer, producer, director, singer and promoter of Canadian culture Paul Gross is this year’s recipient of the National Arts Centre Award.

Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean will present the awards at Rideau Hall Friday, while the National Arts Centre will host a gala Saturday.