Canadian Village brings cultural awareness to youth near Ottawa for Canada’s 150th

For six Tuesday nights in April and May, teens living in Osgoode Village on the outskirts of Ottawa will travel across the country without going anywhere. At least, that’s what it will feel like for those who attend Canadian Village, a program created by the Osgoode Youth Association (O-YA) to mark Canada’s 150th.

“We’re a bedroom community and a thriving farming community,” says O-YA’s executive director Nicole McKerracher. “But for our kids, there’s not much to do.” That’s why, she explains, local citizens formed the drop-in 10 years ago. As well hosting before-school breakfasts and an after-school homework club, O-YA develops occasional programming aimed at bringing youth a broader cultural awareness.

Canadian Village, which has received support from the Community Foundation of Ottawa through the Community Fund for Canada’s 150th, will introduce attendees to a variety of cultures—Indigenous, Maritime, French-Canadian and West Coast—while also exposing them to the experience of new refugees and giving them a primer on Canadian art. The program is inspired by World Village, a similar series O-YA put on two years ago. For that one, McKerracher and her team contacted embassies in Ottawa for guest hosts, but this time she says they had to think more creatively. Case in point: for the Maritime Life evening, McKerracher asked her son’s hockey coach—a native of Prince Edward Island—for some advice. He, in turn, connected her with Robert Pendergast, a chef and master oyster shucker who also happens to be a great storyteller and a singer.

For another of the nights, McKerracher’s own mother, who works for the City of Ottawa helping new refugees find affordable housing, put her in touch with a group of Syrian women who have started a catering business. “They’re going to prepare an authentic Syrian meal for the kids and talk about the process of being a brand new Canadian,” she says.

While all of these virtual trips across Canada are sure to be fun-filled nights fuelled by new foods and music, McKerracher says they’ll also have a more lasting impact that’s especially important to their rural community. “When the kids are exposed to different aspects of Canada, it gives them an appreciation for how much diversity there is in this country,” she says. “In turn, they develop more empathy and are able to relate to people who aren’t the same as them.”

This initiative is made possible by the Community Fund for Canada’s 150th, a collaboration between the Community Foundation of Ottawa, the Government of Canada, and extraordinary leaders from coast to coast to coast.

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