On a beautiful Saturday morning in June, this year’s winners of the My Canada Project came together to celebrate, in person, at the Great Canadian Holidays headquarters in Kitchener. Lorna Hundt, CEO of Great Canadian Holiday who runs the My Canada Project competition, explained that this marked the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began that they have been able to recognize the winners as a group.

The third annual My Canada Project competition saw more than 200 Grade 8 students from across the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) share their thoughts about Canada in a 300-500 word written submission. Of those 200, three finalists and one honourable mention were selected.

Though the submissions covered a wide variety of topics, Hundt explained that some clear themes emerged.

“We were hearing about topics all over the map,” said Hundt. “There were some overarching themes of inclusivity, Indigenous rights, democracy and for the first time this year, mental health.”

Hundt noted the increased prominence of mental health in the submissions, given the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on children. She was glad to have the opportunity to bring the students and their families together for the award ceremony. She saw how much it meant for the kids, too.

“What meant the most to me was seeing them all interact and how proud their families were,” said Hundt.

Cailyn, a student at Laurelwood PS, earned an honourable mention for her submission. She was excited to be there, and was proud that her own thoughts and ideas had made it possible.

“I expressed myself and here I am! It’s a really good feeling,” said Cailyn.

For her, the biggest challenge was making her essay fit under the 500 word limit.

“There were a bunch of things I wanted to cover, but I could only cover so much,” said Cailyn.

Abigail, a student at Centennial PS in Waterloo, was glad to have the opportunity to think about what makes her thankful for Canada.

“I found, when writing this piece, I don’t really think about the things I’m grateful for – especially the ones that I’m giving just because I live in Canada,” said Abigail. “I think it’s good to think about the privileges that I’m granted.”

One of the privileges that stood out for her was access to education. Abigail enjoys learning, and knows it’s important for her success in the future. She has gained a new appreciation for the school and teachers who help her on this pathway in Canada.

“For me, education has been particularly important,” said Abigail. “I just want to learn more, and school gives me a good opportunity for that.”

Sia, also a student at Laurelwood PS, took home second place. For her, getting out and connecting with nature was a key factor in putting together her submission.

“When I wrote it, I went to Waterloo Park, just to get inspiration,” said Sia. “I wrote about everything that came to mind when I thought about Canada, and how privileged we are. I am so grateful to live here.”

Sia also wanted to express her gratitude for having the chance to take part in the My Canada Project, and for the prompt it offered to think about how many great things there are about Canada.

“Thank you to Mrs. Hundt for organizing this,” said Sia. “It was really fun and a really good opportunity.”

Sia had a few words of wisdom for any Grade 7 students who might be considering taking part in the My Canada Project next year.

“It’s a great chance to share your voice, especially as a younger person,” she said. “Don’t doubt yourself.”

Jeeya, a student at William G. Davis PS, was the first place finalist. She shared that her essay, rooted in the Canadian national anthem, allowed her to talk about the very many things that she loves about Canada.

“I wanted to do something that revolved around the national anthem, so I thought why not incorporate the entire national anthem into my essay,” said Jeeya.

The excitement of being selected still hadn’t worn off, and Jeeya still wasn’t sure if she was ready to believe it was real.

“I can’t even believe it,” said Jeeya. “It feels like a dream.”

After she waved goodbye to the bus, which departed to take each of the families home, Hundt reflected on another successful year of the My Canada Project.

“I’m really proud of these kids,” said Hundt. “I believe their voices deserve to be heard, and I heard some beautiful voices.”

Hear from the Students

Jeeya | First Place

Our National Anthem

O’Canada. Canada’s national anthem. My national anthem. Every morning linking us together across our schools; its presence creating free and common ground for all Canadians coast to coast. Like a sewing needle linking together our people, our cultures, our past, and our present; thus creating a better future.

No matter who you are, where you are, or what you believe in, the pride and power of the national anthem is shared amongst us; Canada truly is our home and native land. Everyone who lives and breathes the air of this nation sings with devotion that only a Canadian could possess. Every morning, as the notes leave our mouths, the true patriot love heard in every Canadian’s voice cannot be misplaced. The sheer joy of being a Canadian, representing this stunning and diverse nation, is the driving force behind singing passionately. It is in all of us command, and this call to patriotism is commanded by no one except for pure love for our strong nation.

Although we are all patriots of this deserving country, we cannot refuse to acknowledge the injustices of our past. People who had lived here for thousands of years, the Indigenous people, were mistreated, in ways many of us cannot imagine. To this day, they are still facing the impact of residential schools. The segregation, how their land was stolen from them, and how residential schools were to kill the Indian in the child”, had such a detrimental impact on the Indigenous peoples. As the truth gets uncovered, and we work towards reconciliation, with glowing hearts, we see the rise of the Indigenous people standing up for what they deserve, taking back their rights, and reconnecting with their knowledgeable culture.

It is the strength and resilience of the Indigenous people, who have connected with Canada’s most prominent beauty, that inspires me to truly take in everything from the east to the west, from the north to the south. Those living in the true north, strong and free, motivate me to work for my dreams, fly high like the Canada Geese, and never be ashamed of who I am. It is this ancient culture, along with the majestic Aurora Borealis, and the mist of the falls that breathe life into everyone from far and wide, regardless of their ethnicity and their beliefs. O’Canada, you have given everyone a chance at truly living and for that, we stand on guard for thee.

Over the years, it is this welcoming nature that has made our country comparable to a tossed salad. Canada’s warm hospitality to immigrants and refugees has made it the most multicultural country in the world. I am in awe of the kindness and generosity that Canadians have given to refugees and immigrants, and I hope it never changes. This distinction in our country celebrates so much; the liberation of refugees from their war-torn countries, the welcoming of immigrants who have fought hard for a better life, and how Canadians have kept their country glorious and free.

Canada, such a prominent country. Canada, such a divergent country. Canada, such a pristine country. Canada, my wonderful country. Our wonderful country. O’Canada, you are filled with beautiful animals, beautiful nature, and most importantly, beautiful people who stand on guard for thee every morning as your national anthem flows around, uniting us regardless of who we are.

Sia | Second Place

Why do I love Canada? I love everything from the poutines and insanely cold winters, to living in a democracy. The most special part of living here is the people. When I think of Canada, I think of the people that make it so special to me, and how each little piece of their best qualities create what Canada is to me. As I write this, I am sitting at waterloo park, pondering this thought, and all I had to do to answer that question was look around me.

The first thing I noticed was the diversity. I immediately saw people of all cultures walking around, some of which were wearing cultural clothing or speaking their own languages. In school, I have so many friends that are from many different countries, and I find it fascinating to learn about their cultures. Although I’ve never visited India, my home country, for myself, I’ve always felt so connected to my roots, because there are so many opportunities to celebrate your culture within the community. I’m thankful that I can represent my roots, even without having been there. Canada’s diversity is evident wherever you go, and as an Indian girl, I’m proud to live in a place where our differences are celebrated, instead of pushed down.

Another feature of Canada that awes me is the beautiful environment. I’m beyond grateful for everything from the birds chirping, to the beautiful fields filled with trees, and lakes, where animals peacefully roam. It’s truly incredible how we have the opportunity to see these gorgeous things all around us. The stunning scenery and landscapes continues to amaze me each and every day I experience here. We are incredibly fortunate to have access to clean drinking water, because I know that this is considered a luxury for many others around the world. In Canada, we have the privilege of having 20% of the world’s total freshwater supply, which is something that we take for granted. Many children have to walk miles and miles just to get water, which is truly saddening. It makes me realize that If we all just take a minute to look around us, we see the beauty in everyday things, Although they may seem insignificant.

The rights that we are all entitled to as Canadians is another thing that makes Canada a great place. In my experience, all of our voices are listened to, no matter who you are. We can all express our opinions, and stand up for what we believe in. My parents experienced an unbelievable amount of racism in other countries, and I’m grateful that I live in a place where I am not judged for my gender, race, or sexual orientation. As a feminist, I advocate for equal rights for women. I have listened to women tell stories about how they didn’t have a voice, in places where their education wasn’t valued. Here in Canada, I have scarcely experienced sexism, and I’ve always felt like I had the option to pursue any career, despite traditional gender norms.

Although it’s amazing how far we’ve come as a country, it’s just as important to recognize our wrongdoings in the past. We must do our best to improve the treatment of the Indegenious people. The unmarked graves that were recently found in past residential schools has brought to light how horrific the First Nation’s were treated here. Our actions towards the Indegnious people are deeply saddening, and it’s heartbreaking to know that they still don’t receive the same rights as us. Something that we must work towards as a nation is reconciliation with them. Despite how awful it seems right now, I truly believe that if we all work together, we will be able to fix this, and move forward as one beautiful nation.

Even out of all of these wonderful reasons that I love Canada, my favourite thing has to be the feeling of belonging. What I find so special about living here, is that everyone represents something different, yet we can all come together to create our amazing community. Canada is more than just a piece of land that I live on, it’s where I have the privilege to grow each day, and strive to be better. I’m forever grateful to Canada, for giving me this beautiful life, where I can openly be my most authentic self. So I thank you, Canada.

Abigail | Third Place

O Canada!

O Canada,
Our home and native land!

Canada is a country of peace. The gift of safety is something I am fortunate to receive. Yes, we’ve had our share of internal conflict- disputes over land and power forever written in bitter history and burned into our memory… segregation, the unjust treatment of Indigenous peoples, and even now, our current racism towards different minorities. But today, we have done our best- and must continue- to reconcile, reflect, and move forwards together. Here in Canada, we find strength in our community and join arms to fight through desperate times, whether it be war or a pandemic; the impossible becomes possible.

True patriot love in all of us command-
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!

Canada is a country of equality and actively promotes multiculturism, equality, and free self-expression. Canada shows tolerance and equality to those who may identify differently in sexuality, gender, and ethnicity, supporting these individuals in the industry and workforce. However, this may not be true in some parts of Canada. We must work together to eliminate this bias against these individuals in our society, who should have access to the same rights as the rest of us. Growing up in an inclusive environment was an invaluable experience as a young minority. I can not put my gratitude into words- for the right to preserve my culture and the choice to speak up for myself.

From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Canada is diverse in wildlife. Our Canadian forests and freshwater lakes thrive with biodiversity. Amazing animals such as polar bears, walrus, and seals make their homes in the North, including the unicorn of the sea- the narwhal! We persistently take proactive action to protect endangered species and their habitats and implement environmentally sustainable ways of producing clean energy without greenhouse gas emissions. Even now, Canada has maintained much of its natural wonders, including the symbolic northern light- the aurora borealis- in the Arctic.

God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Pride. Reflecting on this piece, I realize I’m not too much of a patriot- however, I still believe it’s important to acknowledge the small, but significant everyday privileges that come with living in a country where I feel safe and included. In a time of technological advancement and economic prosperity, myself and others are blessed with services such as free, high-quality healthcare and superb education systems provided by strong leaders in our community. Here, the futures of us
students are bright- simply because this is Canada. A nation of inclusivity, and equality. A nation that is at peace- free. Our nation, Canada. I am proud to be Canadian.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

…and of course, I can’t forget to mention the joys of poutine and maple syrup, both long standing Canadian favourites.

Cailyn | Honourable Mention

My Home

If Canada was a person, they would be calm, polite and filled with kindness. They welcome everyone with open arms and always try to be their best self. Canada is a peacekeeper that helps their fellow countries during hard times. This country brings us all together to form a strong diverse community filled with happiness, love and being accepted for who we are. Canada is hard working and to them, nobody is treated differently or left out.

People come to Canada for many different reasons. They could be fleeing, seeking shelter, or just looking for a fresh start. Personally, my parents had immigrated from China to Canada to live their dream. This free country had warmly welcomed them to their new home, making my parents feel safe and accepted. The inspiring thought of each one of us having a completely different religion, culture, or background yet being so close to each other is just heartwarming. Here, I am not scared to show my heritage and celebrate it.

Being Canadian also comes with its perks. Canada is the home to sweet maple syrup that drips from trees and mouth-watering poutine with gooey cheese. Nothing beats the excitement of when a hockey puck is dropped onto the ice, and how could I forget our signature Tim Hortons
coffee and Timbits? We Canadians are known to be truly amazing people that never stop apologizing, always hold doors open for others and stop the car when fearless Canadian geese cross the road. I absolutely adore that!

Living in a first-world country like Canada can only be so much of a dream to millions of people out in the world. I am so fortunate to be living a life filled with endless opportunities and options. Here, we have free education that everyone has access to, health care practically at our fingertips, fresh air to breathe and clean water that is safe to drink. I greatly appreciated what ! have.

Our generation oversees the path that lies ahead. It is up to us to seek change for us, for our country, for our world, for our future. That means acknowledging the voices of Indigenous people who had helped us from the very start. We need to respect their culture and take action to make sure that nobody is forgotten. It means standing up to racism and bias, no matter consciously or unconsciously. It also means supporting the LGBTQ+ community for accepting themselves and being heard. With our heart, mind, passion and determination put into this, we will be the light that guides us to the very end.

Living in Canada makes me feel like a small flower bud, growing and blooming into a beautiful, unique flower along with everyone. This country brings us all together, building our friendship and passion for each other. We can explore the rich cultures all around us and learn about something new everyday. Canada allows us to be our true colors. I can follow my heart, chase my dreams and be free. I can’t wait to explore and make more memories in Canada, the land I call home.

About the My Canada Project

This project aims to provide youth with an opportunity to expand their horizons and look beyond their immediate surroundings. We hope they take a moment to reflect on what Canada means to them as they begin to make decisions about their future education and life choices.

Visit the My Canada Project website.