Passages Canada is a storytelling initiative of Historica Canada, in which volunteers share personal accounts of cultural identity and heritage online in a multimedia Story Archive and in person with schools and community groups.
This Best Practice harnesses the power of personal storytelling to combat racism and foster cross-cultural understanding in Canada. It provides a platform for speakers of diverse backgrounds to share their stories of culture, heritage and identity with groups of all ages.
The program's goal is to make Canadian society more inclusive and equitable. Passionate, dynamic and committed volunteer speakers are the key to its success. The program has ensured this success by committing resources to volunteer engagement, including hosting a series of storytelling workshops across Canada in 2012 and 2013.
The program's nationwide educator engagement has also added to its success. Its free, turn-key resources and lesson plans encourage and support teachers who wish to introduce these issues. Its bilingual DVD beCOMING Canada, a series of short video interviews with Passages Canada speakers, has been used in hundreds of classrooms and settlement organizations across Canada since its 2013 launch.
What are the struggles, experiences and life lessons of Canada's immigrants? How did they feel leaving their homeland and arriving in a new, strange place? How has it felt to try to fit in, learn a new language and start over? How did they make Canada feel like home?
These questions began an exploration of the deeply personal side of immigration.
Prominent authors set out to answer these questions with their own personal stories, which were compiled in the book, Passages: Welcome Home to Canada (Doubleday, 2002), and were also featured on Book Television and Canadian Learning Television in 2001.
Bringing these stories to life would involve more than words on a page. The Dominion Institute, now Historica Canada, created the Passages to Canada Speakers Bureau (now Passages Canada) to give youth and new Canadians the opportunity to hear firsthand the inspiring stories of immigration.
Passages Canada builds bridges between communities, fosters civic pride and encourages civic engagement around the building of intercultural understanding. It also provides racialized minority and immigrant communities with a platform for their stories, and an opportunity to become involved in their communities on a volunteer basis.
The program's focus is now creating dialogue about Canada's diversity with youth, new Canadians and the general public. This encompasses not only immigration stories, but also first- and second-generation experiences, as well as voices from Francophone and Aboriginal communities. Under its new, broader mandate, the Passages Canada program strives to build understanding and respect for Canada's shared history and values.
An increase in immigration levels caused rapid changes to the face of Canada in the decade leading up to the 2002 establishment of the Passages Canada program. To adapt to this new reality, Canadian society needed more outlets to facilitate conversations about the benefits of cultural diversity and the complexities of the immigrant experience. Passages Canada came into being to fill this gap. Since then, over 1,000 speakers have created dialogue on the country's rich diversity with over 250,000 youth and adults, as the program continues to build understanding and respect for Canada's shared history and values.
Making a Difference
In a program survey, 86 per cent of speakers and 84 per cent of visit requesters said the program increased the audience's understanding of Canadian multiculturalism and the experience of ethnocultural communities. The majority of participants reported that they felt prouder to be Canadian after hearing from a speaker. They learned how fortunate they are to be Canadian and also felt prouder of Canada's history of taking in people who face hardship.
Participation in the Write and Make Art! Challenge, which asks youth to reflect on issues of identity and civic pride, has doubled over the last two years. These are clearly issues that youth want to speak about and Passages Canada gives them a national platform to do so.
It has been a challenge to maintain stability and plan for the long term over the last decade while relying on the ebb and flow of short-term funding. Volunteer engagement and retention – a key element of the program's success – has been a challenge in this funding climate.
Over the last three years, the program re-established contact with existing volunteers and recruited new volunteers across Canada. Organizers now grapple with the question of how to foster community amidst a network of volunteers who are spread out across the country.
One positive challenge will be providing more speaking opportunities for an eager volunteer base that has grown by 50 per cent since 2012.
Vision for the Future
To engage its volunteers, Passages Canada will create more opportunities for speakers to share their stories by: doing outreach to schools in key areas; using Skype to connect more groups with speakers from other regions; attending educational conferences, and seeking new audiences for the speakers' inspirational messages.
It will build on the success of its multimedia Story Archive, a user-generated platform for individuals to share their Passages Canada stories, along with personal photos and video. With over 200 stories to explore already, this archive has the potential to become an important living record of Canadian experience.
Organizers hope to host a series of panel events – outside of the classroom setting – asking relevant and challenging questions about multiculturalism, immigration and race, and pushing these issues further into the Canadian consciousness and the media spotlight.
About Historica Canada
Historica Canada is the largest charitable organization dedicated to Canadian history, identity and citizenship. Its mandate is to build active and informed citizens through a greater knowledge and appreciation of the history, heritage and stories of Canada.
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