Lorna Hundt, chief executive officer of Great Canadian Holidays Inc., was determined to let this year’s winners of the My Canada Project writing contest know just how proud she was. As public health guidelines would not allow for the usual gathering to celebrate the Grade 8 students’ achievements, she brought the ceremony to them.

“We took the show on the road,” said Hundt. “We drove a Great Canadian Coach to each of the student’s homes, throughout Waterloo Region.”

The My Canada Project invites Grade 8 students in the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) to share what they love about Canada, what inspires them about our country, and what they think we could do better. Loving Canada doesn’t mean you have to be born in Canada – in fact, experience living elsewhere can help shape your understanding of what makes Canada unique.

This project aims to provide youth with an opportunity to expand their horizons and look beyond their immediate surroundings. Hundt explained the hope is that 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.

It’s fair to say that Hundt and her husband, Larry, are proud Canadians. Spurred on by the narrow margin of the 1995 Quebec Referendum, they have dedicated themselves to promote Canadian awareness and Canadian pride with their fleet of 54 coach buses, decorated in iconic Canadian imagery.

The My Canada Project is the latest effort in this theme, with a focus of inviting young people to think about their further education and career goals, and to really think about what Canada means to them.

For 2021, the winners were:

First place – Kyo Lee, Laurelwood PS
Second place – Casper Dong, Laurelwood PS
Third place – Shawn Lueck, Sir Adam Beck PS

Hundt was pleased to see clear themes emerging from the submitted essays, demonstrating to her what issues are important to young people. It was heartening to see these students thinking critically about how we can make Canada a better place for all those who live here, and want to live here.

“There were three overarching themes in these essays,” said Hundt. “Democracy, inclusivity, and concerns about injustices – past and present – toward Indigenous peoples.

While the students recognize there is more work to be done, Hundt saw an unmistakable tone of optimism to the submissions. This gives her hope for the generations of Canadians ahead.

“As we approach Canada Day, I feel encouraged that this younger generation truly understands these themes and I feel optimistic for the future,” said Hundt. “Our country is in good hands. We will continue to do what we do well. We will continue to adapt and grow on the international stage. And most importantly, we will do better in areas where we need to improve.”

The Winners

Kyo Lee – First Place

What Do I Love About Canada?

What do I love about Canada? The free health care, breathtaking landscapes, the weird bagged milk are all things I’m proud to represent as a Canadian. But in the eyes of a first generation immigrant, and a queer Asian girl, what I found most endearing was Canada’s humanity. Not its physical depiction but the heart of each Canadian, the inclusion, diversity and the rights we are all entitled to.

The inclusivity of Canada was something unimaginably welcoming. Through the years that I couldn’t speak English or communicate, I never felt excluded. I remember, from the start the other students would invite me to play and the teachers would offer to help me. When I was embarrassed about being an immigrant and ashamed of myself and family who didn’t speak English fluently, no one else made fun of me. I tried to hide my nationality to ‘fit in’ yet now I recognize that I was the only one with prejudice about myself. In Canada, you don’t need to pretend to fit in. You can be yourself and be included just the same. For myself personally, I was scarcely made fun of for my nationality, sexual orientation, or different aspects of myself and I am forever grateful to Canada for letting that miracle occur.

Canada’s diversity is another feature that awes me. Our country is one of the most culturally diverse in the world, and I have experienced it myself, being able to find my own culture in a foreign nation. Even now, my family can celebrate our heritage without feeling discluded. Furthermore, being able to learn about other cultures so freely is fascinating. Nowhere else would I be able to discover so much diversity first-handedly in a liberated and honoured way.

Finally, it is the rights and privileges offered to all Canadians. Even as a minority, I still have the same rights and opportunities that everyone else is offered. Simply being treated as an equal, though it should be basic universal rights, is clearly not. Even though it will not be true for all of Canada, personally being able to grow up in such an equitable situation was invaluable and I cannot express my gratitude enough for our nation. We all have the right to express ourselves, no matter who we are. Our government listens to its inhabitants and all of us have the choice to change the place we live in.

However, not everyone experiences Canada’s inclusivity. We must work on the treatment of our Indigenous people and their access to every one of the rights we have. Through the past’s segregation, residential schools, the Indian Act to our current racism, Canada must work together to eliminate this unjustified bigotry. I believe in Canada, every one of us and our future: us students. Canada can and will become even better because we believe in ourselves.

Here in our nation, I’ve found love and inclusion while still being able to maintain my own culture. Due to this inclusion, even as an immigrant, I am able to say with pride, my country Canada. Our country, Canada. And for this beautiful nation, I’ll even embrace the bagged milk.

Casper Dong – Second Place

I’m Proud To Be Canadian

My mother told me a story about how when she was a child her mother had told her to sweep the floor. Except no matter how hard she worked the floor was never clean. She lived on a dirt floor. My family scraped just above the poverty line living in a cramped hut, surviving on scraps of food, and wearing rags in the winters of Northern China. I am beyond proud and am eternally grateful that I am Canadian. I live in a first world country, I can learn without being hit, and I can feel inspired knowing that I live in a nation made up of immigrants. I am proud to be Canadian.

Living in Canada to me means that instead of skipping lunch, I know that there is enough food, it means that my family can live in a heated home with plumbing, electricity, and a roof that doesn’t leak when it rains. It means that I can go out at night without the fear of turning into a child abduction case. It means that instead of waiting for factories to shut down and traffic to stop, I’m able to see a blue sky and breathe in clean air. The contrast of how I lived in Canada to my Aunt in China made me feel the difference of how a first world country is different to a third. She slept in a house no larger than a master bedroom and the whole family slept on one bed. No computer or internet connection, no running water, and when I asked to go to the washroom, I ended up squatting in a field.

Inside of my Chinese classroom instead of reassuring words, and a sticker to congratulate good work our teacher wielded a meter stick and strict rules. Our classroom had no projector, smart board, or computer. It had a Chalkboard and an array of desks with rickety stools. The washroom, unlike Canada, was a hole in the ground. With horse flies biting at you and a line of people waiting, it was impossible to use. During our English class, a wrong answer meant lining up and being hit by a ruler. The difference between Canada and China’s education system was immense and I am proud and grateful to be Canadian.

In a nation made up of minorities, there is no targeting of minorities. You don’t feel uncomfortable, you feel safe and accepted because the kindness, openness, and trust that the average Canadian citizen has is unrivalled and is something that I am proud of. Canada is a country where each person is proud to know they are Canadian. I feel inspired by how one may have a different culture, background, or ethnicity than another but each person recognizes one another as a Canadian. Each person has endured their own struggles and have faced their own demons but the sheer amount of pride for one’s country is felt through everyone and is an awe inspiring feeling.

In a country where I feel safe, in a country where I feel I belong, and in a country where I feel there are boundless opportunities I have the chance to represent my country through my writing. I feel the unwavering pride of knowing that I am a Canadian.

Shawn Lueck – Third Place

Here, I am accepted, I am loved, I am free. Here, I am seen, and heard, I won’t disappear. Here, I can be me, I can love who I want, I can express my true identity. Here, I am cherished, I am safe, I have opportunity. Here I am. But it’s not just about me, it’s about the people.

Here, is my family, from my grandparents to my youngest cousins. Here, are my neighbours, from all different backgrounds, cultures, religions, and countries. Here, are my friends, from all different households, and traditions. Here we are. But it’s not just about us, it’s about the nature.

Here, are the gatherings of moose, deer, and wolves, that run all through our core. Here, are the schools of trout, salmon, and walleye, that trace their way all around our edges. Here, are the flocks of owls, hawks, and eagles, that carve across our skies. Here, are the trees, maple, pine, and sycamore, that stretch into our clouds. Here, are the blankets of diamonds that come in the winter, and the warm rays of light that come in the spring. Here, are the sheets of colour that cover the trees in the fall, and the abundance of life that comes alive in the summer. Here they are. But it’s not just about them, it’s about the feeling.

Feeling like the forests could go on forever, and the vast fields of crops couldn’t possibly become any more green. Like the mountains stretch beyond the limits of the sky. It’s the safety, and equality, the admitting and mending of past and current mistakes. Because no country is perfect, I cannot call us that, but I feel that we come pretty darn close.

Along with all of this abundance, beauty, strength, comes the responsibility to protect it, to preserve it. We must maintain its safety, its strength, its variety of life and people. We must hold on to those memories and stories of what it was like here before the boats and cities came. We must remember our aboriginal people who lived off of our forests and wildlife, who knew every species just from the sound of their feet against the ground.

We need to protect the weak because we are strong, our First Nations, our Black community, our religious communities, our gay and trans communties, our refugees that come to us begging for safety. We are more than what is shown on the maps, or in the textbooks. Though we might be divided by borders we need to stand in unity so that those old, conservative ways of thinking crumble. The world is running out of space, its people and animals are disappearing. We are forgetting who we used to be, that we all go to the same heaven no matter what god we believe in. No matter what colour our skin is, no matter what gender we identify, no matter who we love, all of our blood runs red like the leaf on our flag. All of our ancestors were refugees once who were shown mercy so that we could grow up in the land of the free. We need to show that same mercy to the men, women, non binary individuals, and children fleeing their homes, and welcome them into ours.

This is our home, our safety, our dignity, our pride, our bravery, our strength, help us to save it. There is no limit to the amount of love people can give, so give it to as many people as it can reach. We are all beautiful, we are all capable, we all need to be loved equally.

Welcome to Canada.