Each spring, many classrooms across Ontario work hard on their heritage fair projects. If you’ve never had the opportunity to participate in the Ontario Heritage Fair, it’s a great opportunity to have students invested in learning, researching parts of Canadian history and heritage. What I love about Heritage Fair Projects is that they are Canadian focussed and can provide a real opportunity for students to critically think about what events or people are an important part of Canada.

I remember doing a similar project when I was in grade eight history class. There was a long list of men, all British or French, who were the ‘influential founders’ of Canada. My project was on Sir Wilfrid Laurier. I think I chose him because he was on the five dollar bill and that bill was the one I saw most often at 12 years old. I can’t remember learning much more about him except that he also had a university named after him in Waterloo. Perhaps I was not as invested in the assignment as I should have been.

This year, there were so many different submissions! Noteworthy Canadians, including Viola Desmond and Terry Fox, begin to really show the changing view of what makes someone influential in Canadian culture. Twelve year old me would have been excited to see a Black woman or a teenage boy with an amputated leg as people who changed Canada for the better. These activists who were visible and worked to change a challenging system of inequality are nothing short of inspirational.

It was so fascinating to see some students chose whole organizations as responsible for changing the face of Canada. Organizations such as the Toronto Raptors or Sick Kids Hospitals that have had such influence on changing the landscape of Canada, bringing people together or providing life changing services for so many children and youth. You can imagine how personal these project submissions were for the youth who chose to highlight these organizations as a defining part of Canadian Heritage.

As I start to think more about pedagogy being culturally and historically responsive, I think about how students see themselves and other identities in Canada’s heritage. I wonder how we can encourage and develop learning opportunities that are culturally sustaining – allowing students not only to celebrate and learn about their culture, but to find joy in sharing history and a place for belonging. As the daughter of a Filipina immigrant, I wonder how I could have found my heritage represented in Canada as influential and important here. Could I have learned about my own culture and found space for it to be celebrated in school? What would I have said? What story would I have told?

I am already thinking about next year’s Heritage Fair! It’s beyond exciting to think about co-creating criteria on what makes someone influential or an organization important; to encourage students to critically think and develop their own definitions about what Canada means to them. There will be endless possibilities to plan and create the conditions for students to be invested in their learning, to be excited at seeing themselves reflected in Canadian heritage. I can’t wait to hear their voices!

** The Ontario Heritage Fairs Program (OHFA) is an educational initiative that provides an opportunity for students to explore parts of Canadian history or cultural heritage in a dynamic learning environment. Teachers, community educators, and families encourage students to use a variety of research methods to explore a topic of interest, and medium of choice, to tell their stories – about the land where they live, their personal family history, or their local community stories. For more information visit: https://ohfa.ca/about-ohfa/


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