TORONTO - Nineteen-year-old Ariana Gillis was thrilled when she learned she'd been nominated for a Canadian Folk Music Award, because she "never thought that that would happen."
But as excited as she was to be considered, the Vineland, Ont., native - who's up for young performer of the year - now says she'd rather see the award go to Taylor Mitchell, the 19-year-old folksinger who was mauled to death by a pair of coyotes while hiking in Nova Scotia last month.
"I think she should win it," Gillis told The Canadian Press during a recent telephone interview from her home.
"It kind of feels - and I'm sure the other nominees think so too - feels wrong to accept it, know what I mean? I don't know. It's a weird situation."
Mitchell was hiking alone in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park in October when a pair of coyotes attacked her. She was on a three-week tour of the region to promote her debut CD, "For Your Consideration."
But her tragic death will have no effect on the young performer of the year award at Saturday's gala in Ottawa, said CFMA board member Bill Garrett.
He said the award winners were determined by a jury process that was conducted prior to Mitchell's death.
"It wouldn't be a sympathy vote," he said.
This year's show will mark the fifth anniversary of the CFMAs. Two-time Polaris Prize finalist Joel Plaskett of Halifax leads with four nominations, while Montreal ensemble OktoEcho is next with three nods.
Two-time winner Lynn Miles said the show has been a significant help for the Canadian folk community.
"I think any time that we get acknowledgment for our genre of music it's good, because it's very under the radar," she said over the telephone from her home in Ottawa.
Miles said she knew Mitchell for almost three years and she played on Mitchell's album and co-wrote two songs.
"She was really developing as a really great songwriter," Miles said of Mitchell.
"She was really interested in learning how to be better at what she was doing. She wasn't sort of settling for the fact that she had talent."
Suzie Vinnick, who had also co-written with Mitchell, was similarly effusive in her praise for the late singer.
"She was just really positive, and keen, and kind," said Vinnick, who's up for two awards at this year's show. "And just really amazing."
Garrett said the CFMAs will pay tribute to Mitchell along with other Canadian musicians who died over the past year - including legendary Hamilton bluesman Jackie Washington and Cape Breton, N.S., fiddler Jerry Holland.
He said that there had been a movement afoot to rename the young performer award for Mitchell, but that such a decision won't come this year, if ever.
He also said that naming the award in Mitchell's honour this year would be unfair to those nominated against her.
Gillis, for her part, would hardly have minded. In fact, she said she "loved" the idea of naming the young performer award after Mitchell.
The two had been friends for about two years and Gillis sang on Mitchell's album. Gillis said she and Mitchell had excitedly exchanged Facebook messages after hearing the news that they had both been nominated for the award.
Looking beyond her sadness over her friend's death, Gillis says Mitchell would certainly be a deserving recipient of a CFMA.
"She was a beautiful songwriter and a wonderful performer," Gillis said.
"She was just such a good person too and that really did shine through in her music. You could just tell there was nothing there that was fake or phoney. She was just herself and that was so great and refreshing to see from an artist."