Harnessing the power of personal storytelling
As a storytelling initiative of Historica Canada, Passages Canada volunteers share their personal accounts of cultural identity and heritage online in our multimedia Story Archive and in-person with schools and community groups. Since 2002, over 1,200 speakers have created dialogue on Canada's diversity with over 350,000 youth and adults, as we continue to build understanding and respect for Canada’s shared history and values. Passages Canada is generously supported by The Government of Canada and TD BankGroup.
The fabric of Canadian society is woven with stories of newcomers from all over the globe; individuals and families who left the familiar for the unknown. What are their struggles, experiences and life lessons? How has it felt to try to fit in, learn a new language and start over? These questions began an exploration of the deeply personal side of immigration. Prominent authors, among them Selvadurai, Berry, and Ricci set out to answer these questions with their own personal stories which were compiled in the book Passages: Welcome Home to Canada (2002). Bringing these stories to life seemed not only relevant but timely.
The goal of the initiative is to harness the power of personal storytelling to combat racism and enact social change. Our focus is now creating dialogue on Canada’s diversity with youth, new Canadians, and the general public. This encompasses not only immigration stories, but first- and second- generation experiences. Under our new, broader mandate, Passages Canada strives to build understanding and respect for Canada's shared history and values, as well as our rich diversity in language and culture.
Immigration levels in Canada greatly increased with an intake of over 200,000 individuals annually throughout the 1990s. Combating racism through storytelling continues to be an important part of the Passages Canada mandate. Canada has seen an increase in the number of refugees arriving from the Middle East with the ongoing crisis in that region of the world. Because of the Canadian public’s outstanding involvement in this refugee crisis, it is even more important that we share stories around the refugee experience.
Making a Difference:
Since 2002, over 350,000 Canadians have heard from a Passages Canada speaker. 1,300 volunteer speakers have shared their personal stories of identity and immigration. In a program survey, 86% of speakers and 84% of visit requesters felt that the program increased the audience’s understanding of Canadian multiculturalism and the experience of ethno-cultural communities.
Since the beginning of the program, a focus on volunteer engagement has resulted in a strong base of passionate volunteer speakers. Volunteer engagement and retention—a key element to our program’s success – has been a challenge. Over the last year, we carried out a volunteer engagement plan to re-establish contact with existing volunteers, and recruit new volunteers across Canada. We now grapple with the question: how do you foster community amidst a network of volunteers who are spread out across the country?
Vision for the Future:
Passages Canada has recently focused on building the program’s volunteer base; now it is time to focus on requests for speakers. We continue to build on the initial success of the multimedia Story Archive, a user-generated platform for individuals to share their personal stories, along with photos and video. With over 350 stories to explore, this Archive has the potential to become an important living record of Canadian experience. Lastly, we are eager to move the speakers’ dialogues out of the classroom and into the wider public sphere through a series of panel events asking relevant and challenging questions about multiculturalism, immigration, and race, and pushing these issues further into the Canadian consciousness.
The stories shared by Passages Canada speakers and storytelling workshop participants not only serve to educate new and established Canadians, but also promotes a culture of understanding and embracing multiculturalism in our communities. In most of their engagements, Passages speakers have received positive feedback showcasing the impact of the program across the country. About Historica Canada:
Historica Canada is the largest independent organization devoted to enhancing awareness of Canadian history and citizenship. Our programs, all of which are offered bilingually, reach more than eight million Canadians annually.