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Teaching Halifax its HERitage: YWCA Girls Make Diverse Local Heritage Minutes

The Michele Landsberg Community Award is a $5,000 award presented by the Canadian Women’s Foundation. Named after renowned Canadian journalist Michele Landsberg, it recognizes organizations that encourage girls and young women to raise awareness of equality issues through media.

While many Canadians are familiar with the popular Heritage Minutes, the Youth Advisory Council at YWCA Halifax saw a need for more diverse and more local history education – that’s where they hatched the idea of “Alternative Heritage Minutes” that celebrate and elevate the voices of individuals and groups that have been left out of our fairly one-sided, Eurocentric view of Canadian history.

We were thrilled that this project idea – which came directly from youth – was recognized with this award. As such, it was key to us that the project continue to be youth-led in as much as it could be.

We were lucky to have a few other projects and programs happening simultaneously, like  Think Big, Look Back, Start Small funded by Canadian Heritage. Also involved were our regular GirlSpace program, as well as a project supported by the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services’ Sexual Violence Strategy, called What We Say, which involved integrating visual and performance arts with youth conversations about identity, consent, and what it means to be a girl.

These projects culminated on March 15 ,2018, at an event called HERitage: Think Big by Looking Back, where youth displayed the visual art pieces, choreographed live performances, and of course premiered alternative heritage minutes.

Though facilitators and a filmmaker were there to provide support and guidance, everything was designed and developed by young people. From researching and determining the people they wanted to highlight in the videos, to how they wanted to tell their stories, to set design and costumes, young people were in charge and their talents and passion are obvious in the final results. Here are the trailblazers the girls recognized in their videos

Portia White, born in Truro NS, was the first Black Canadian concert singer to win international acclaim and was named a “person of national historic significance” by the Government of Canada in 1995.

Rose Fortune, a Black Loyalist, best-known for her talent as a businesswoman at a time when neither women from any community nor Black people were encouraged to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities.

Aileen Meagher was a Halifax-born Olympic athlete, inspiring school teacher, accomplished artist, and intrepid world traveller. She was known as ‘The Flying Schoolmarm’ at a time when the idea of women in competitive sports was thought to be ‘impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect,’ as stated by the founder of the modern Olympic movement.

Michele Landsberg’s vision and passion symbolize what our youth programs aim to do. She works tirelessly to advance gender equality and to ensure all women and girls are provided opportunities and a strong voice for the future. The Michele Landsberg Community Award was a tremendous honour for YWCA Halifax to receive, but more importantly for us, it allowed us to provide an incredible opportunity to the young people in our programs!

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