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Building a stronger sense of belonging: Community foundations working hard to celebrate Canada's 150th

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In 1958, Senator Mark Drouin proposed that Canada should host a world exhibition to celebrate our 1967 centennial. That idea eventually turned into the Montreal Expo and a six-month exhibition with a permanent site and infrastructure. The project cost $431 million, was attended by more than 50 million people (at a time when Canada’s population was 20 million) and was considered “a seminal event that still casts a spell on generations of Canadians...a time of optimism, a time when everything seemed possible for the city, for the country.”

When Canada’s 150th anniversary (which will be marked in 2017) came onto the horizon, it was Governor General the Right Honourable David Johnston who cast a vision for how the milestone might be noted. In 2011, Johnston challenged the community foundation movement — which exists in 191 communities across Canada and is celebrating its own 95th anniversary — to see the birthday as an opportunity to build a stronger sense of belonging in our communities and country, and for the community foundations to imagine their own role in building a stronger and smarter nation.

Making Canada’s 150th significant

“When we began talking with various partners about 2017, we recognized that 1967 had been about commemoration and celebration,” said Laurel Carlton, director, leadership initiatives and governance of Community Foundations of Canada (CFC). “We asked ourselves: what could communities do to make Canada’s 150th a significant moment for the country? We didn’t only want to reflect on what Canada has been but also to consider what we could do to make the next 150 years significant.” A central principle in the conversations that followed was a desire to see local grassroots initiatives where communities could give back to Canada and be part of a movement to build the nation — something the Governor General calls “barn-raising initiatives”.

Over the last couple of years, a collaborative network called the 150Alliance held meetings in Ottawa, Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax and Toronto to share ideas and hear from community leaders on how this milestone might be honoured. CFC also surveyed Canadians, finding that there was great support for celebrating this occasion: 73% of respondents knew that Canada’s 150th was next year; 90% felt it was important for Canada to celebrate; and more than 85% of respondents were interested in participating in a community event in 2017.

In March 2016, the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage announced the Community Fund for Canada’s 150th to mark Canada’s sesqicentennial. The federal government is also funding a community infrastructure program and a fund for large-scale, national projects.

The Community Fund for Canada’s 150th

The Community Fund for Canada’s 150th is a collaborative effort, seeded by the Government of Canada and extraordinary leaders from coast to coast to coast, and matched and delivered locally by Canada’s 191 community foundations. The Department of Canadian Heritage contributed $10 million, which will be distributed to community foundations across the country based on the size of community and community foundations. The community foundations are required to match the funds and distribute them in small grants (less than $15K) to community initiatives, which in turn are required to match the dollars received through direct contribution or in-kind support. Ultimately the Fund will provide thousands of small grants to community initiatives in every province and territory in 2016 and 2017.

Carlton notes that many projects are ones that build Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, projects that inspire a deeper understanding of the people and places that shape our communities, connecting an historic understanding of where we have come from with a look ahead to where we are going as a nation.

The Fund is accessible to all Canadians, including Indigenous peoples, youth, groups that reflect Canada's cultural diversity, and official language minority groups. Eligible recipients include registered charities, registered amateur athletic associations, registered housing corporations that provide low-cost housing for the aged, registered municipalities, and registered municipal/public governing bodies. Other interested groups or individuals can be eligible by partnering with one of the qualified groups listed above.

One key tenet to the Fund is that it has been designed to be responsive to local priorities, recognizing the diversity of communities and populations within Canada. Some community foundations are using their Vital Signs reports as a way of refining their specific priorities while other communities using the Fund’s general objectives as their criteria.

Eligible projects for the Community Fund must be based in Canada, must be connected to Canada’s 150th anniversary and must work toward the Fund’s objectives:

  • ENCOURAGE participation in community activities and events to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation;
  • INSPIRE a deeper understanding about the people, places and events that shape our country and our communities; or
  • BUILD vibrant and healthy communities with the broadest possible engagement of all Canadians, including Indigenous peoples; groups that reflect our cultural diversity; youth; and official language minorities.

While community foundations set their own timelines for participating in this project (the granting schedule is updated regularly here), interest has been very strong: within two months of announcing the Fund, more than a thousand groups signed up, with some community foundations receiving a record number of applicants. CharityVillage spoke with some of the community foundations that offered early grants to understand what kinds of creative projects were being planned across the country.

Huronia Community Foundation

Midland, ON is a community on southern Georgian Bay that is home to significant Francophone, Anglophone and First Nations communities, as well as being the site of a large provincial mental health centre.

The Huronia Community Foundation was the first community foundation to participate in the Fund for Canada’s 150th. They used their most recent Vital Signs report to refine the focus to the Fund’s themes, and held simultaneous calls for their regular funds and for the Canada 150 Community Fund.

After opening applications on April 1, the grants committee chose to distribute $29,600 among seven projects that fit the criteria.

Executive Director Patricia Copeland is excited about the projects being sponsored, including a project by local concert group VOX whose project will engage three local songwriters and musicians to write, produce and teach a new song to local choirs, with a culminating mass-choir performance on Canada Day 2017. She also welcomes the production of a play being created by a seniors' centre that draws in seniors who are often marginalized within the outlying communities.

“I think we will see a stronger community because of this Fund,” says Copeland. “People will have opportunity to engage with others they have never crossed paths with. Better wellbeing, culture and happiness are always the goal of our foundation, enriching our community in the support we offer to charities who support and provide those programs.”

Edmonton Community Foundation

Edmonton Community Foundation anticipates offering two rounds of Canada 150 grants so with the first round, which accepted applications through April, they decided to use the Fund’s broad guidelines to see how community organizations would interpret the call for proposals.

Many of the 39 applications were arts-related projects, something Craig Stumpf-Allen, director of grants and community engagement, says was to be expected given the ability of arts to engage a broad community. The applications were reviewed by a staff committee with a short list being given to a volunteer-based committee who awarded nine grants ranging from $5K to $15K with a total of $117,000 in Community Fund grants.

Stumpf-Allen highlights several of the projects: The Alberta Book Fair Society (Lit Fest) has identified neighbourhoods and cultural communities across Edmonton where they will be holding a multicultural pop-up project showcasing arts and culture; the Edmonton Musical Theatre Society is producing a concert to honour Canadian musical artists while the Metro Cinema film society is hosting a Canadian film series with filmmakers and actors speaking on related panel discussions; the Edmonton Public Library is undertaking a digital storytelling project where residents can share their oral histories for posterity.

“I wasn’t around for Canada’s centennial,” says Stumpf-Allen, “but I remember monuments it left behind. This celebration is about engaging people. My hope is that by the end of 2017, Edmontonians and people in the surrounding areas have experienced at least one of these projects and have been part of the experience of celebrating Canada’s 150th together.”

Edmonton Community Foundation plans another granting cycle September 1-30, 2016.

Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough

The Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough serves a large geographical area including eight different townships, which can present challenges for the more isolated rural population. The Community Foundation was excited about participating in the Community Fund for Canada’s 150th — something that was made possible by an anonymous donor who offered to match CFC’s funds before the program launched. The foundation added their own funds, allowing them to grant almost three times as much as they normally would.

The community foundation received 36 applications and their volunteer committee who made the decision found that the applications nicely fell under the three words of the CFC criteria: encourage, inspire and build. They also used their most recent Vital Signs report to shape their granting priorities, in the end granting a total of $111,000 to 19 successful applicants.

Jennifer DeBues, coordinator: granting, donor services and administration, is excited about the funding of a Rotary Club project that takes both First Nations and non-native youth on a canoe trip through area waterways. Another project will address the sense of belonging: a “Passport to Peterborough County” that will encourage participation in a wide variety of activities across the County with a community celebration at the end.

“The inclusion part is important for us. We want people to be excited about being part of Canada and to feel that Peterborough County and City are places they can belong. Our grants are being made to a variety of groups we find in society — seniors, youth, aboriginal people, transgendered people and people with disabilities.”

Banff Canmore Community Foundation

The Banff Canmore Community Foundation had already been planning birthday gifts for Canada after hearing David Johnson’s challenge, but they experienced a transformative moment in a think tank they convened when one participant observed that his daughter would be turning 15 in 2017 and would be 65 at the time of Canada’s bicentennial in 2067 — “If we see 2017 as a turn in the road toward 2067, what would that look like?”

The community foundation issued a call for applications in mid-May and received nine proposals, of which they decided to fund five, with a total granting of $39,000 (including $10,000 from one anonymous donor).

Executive Director Lorraine Widmer-Carson emphasizes the importance of working together, noting that both the 2013 floods and the 2016 fire in Fort MacMurray helped her organization and others realize “we can go a lot further if we work together.” She believes the projects being sponsored as part of this Fund will help accomplish that goal —from a project reintroducing bison to a national park to a mural initiative in the town of Canmore that will bring together a professional artist with young people, elders from Aboriginal nations as well as municipal leaders to create a lasting presence in the community.

In a large geographic area – the community foundation serves communities along a 160-kilometre corridor — that is also a magnet for tourism, which brings its own challenges and opportunities for community members, the community foundation hopes the projects they invest in will help both residents and tourists know that this is a community that cares about their neighbours and helps them.

The Banff Canmore Community Foundation plans a second grant cycle in September 2016.

“It is exciting to see the growing momentum about Canada’s 150th and diversity of ways that it emerges in communities, reflecting both shared values and diversity,” says Carlton. “We are hoping this initiative results in increased connection between and within communities. We are also hoping to encourage broad participation from all members of our communities and to tell the story of what happens when all of us come together at a moment like this.”

For more information about upcoming grant cycles, click here.

Susan Fish is a writer/editor at Storywell, a company that helps individuals and organizations tell their story well. She has written for the nonprofit sector for almost two decades and loves a good story.

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