A Halifax man who arrived as a refugee from Somalia becomes a firefighter and basketball coach. A Calgary dancer with cerebral palsy takes a leading role in a theatrical performance company. A same-sex couple in Montréal wins the legal right to be equally recognized as the parents of their children.
Uplifting, contemporary stories of Canadians working to overcome human rights challenges are showcased in a new exhibition that opens March 1 at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), one of four being presented this year for Canada's 150th anniversary.
Our Canada, My Story uses video vignettes as windows into the lives of seven remarkable people who are working to overcome diverse human rights challenges (see below). Visitors are invited to make a connection that challenges perceptions and celebrates diversity – sparking reflection about how we are different, how we are the same, and what links us all as Canadians.
"The Government of Canada is proud to support the new exhibition by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Our Canada, My Story," said the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage. "The remarkable Canadians who shared their uplifting stories are helping build a welcoming Canada where everyone can grow and reach their full potential."
Our Canada, My Story runs until this fall in the Level 6 Expressions gallery. It features circular viewing stations arranged beneath a pathway of glowing ceiling lights, with in-gallery activities that invite visitors to share their own images and stories. It was developed by the CMHR's in-house team of research, curation and exhibition design experts, working with Humainologie, a multimedia production company supported by the Calgary Centre for Global Community.
"Canada is full of ordinary people who do extraordinary things to make this country and our world a better place," said CMHR president and CEO John Young. "As role models, they can help build education and awareness about how we can all work to promote human rights."
The seven videos that comprise the exhibition will also be available for viewing online on a rotating schedule. More information can be found on the CMHR website.
The Expressions gallery is generously supported by the Richardson Foundation & Family.
Seven Canadian stories
Stories of these remarkable Canadians are featured in the new exhibition Our Canada, My Story, which opens March 1 at the CMHR:
Ali (Halifax): "This is my community, this is my country. I'm part of this fabric. I'm not less than anybody and I'm proud of being Canadian."
Ali Duale and his wife fled a brutal civil war in Somalia in 1991, living in a Kenyan refugee camp with three children until they arrived in Canada six years later. Ali became a firefighter and now has eight children, coaches two basketball teams, organized a swimming program, sits on the board of the Maritime Muslim Academy and helped plan a new mosque. He was recently named Diversity and Community Liaison Officer for the Halifax fire department.
Widia (Montréal): "I think that reconciliation starts, first and foremost, with awareness and then recognition. For me there are different levels of reconciliation. I really see it as a process of collective healing."
Widia Larivière co-founded the Quebec chapter of the Idle No More movement in 2012, motivated by concern for ancestral lands and the environment after passage of federal Bill C-45. She produces documentaries, writes and comments about the plight of many Indigenous women. Widia recently founded Mikana, an organization that raises awareness of the issues faced by Indigenous peoples. She recently took a position with the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse du Québec.
Thomas (Calgary): "There really aren't that many opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in things like theatre and dance. I think that – just by being out there, by being visible – we're helping break down barriers."
Thomas Poulsen was an actor, dancer, activist and humanitarian who was propelled to make the world a better, fairer place for all. Born with cerebral palsy, he used crutches for improved mobility. He was active with MoMo Mixed Ability Dance Theatre, which brings together professional and prospective artists of all abilities to explore movement, voice, theatre, dance and improv. He was a member of Disability Action Hall and worked professionally to assist people with developmental disabilities. Thomas passed away in January 2017.
Sylvia (Iqaluit): "We come from a very sharing culture, so we don't keep things to ourselves. We share everything through food and through loving each other as family and as a community."
Sylvia Cloutier was born in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik in Northern Quebec and now lives in Iqaluit. In her daily life, she faces challenges to the right to healthy food, dealing with issues surrounding food security, accessibility and high prices that confront most people in the North. A throat singer and drum dancer, Sylvia is also co-founder of the performance company Aqsarniit, which produces shows that promote Inuit culture. She works as a TV producer.
Shawn (Saskatoon): "It's extremely important to take your place in a community and in society as a whole – and to do it by being yourself. Cultural diversity and even personal diversity: celebrate that. Be yourself. Be someone who stands out."
Shawn Jobin is a Fransaskois (Saskatchewan francophone) singer-songwriter, rapper, slam poet and DJ who has won multiple awards for his French-language pride anthem, "Au nom de la nation: Tu m'auras pas," a rallying cry against assimilation. His music expresses a love for the French language and his culture and his sense of belonging. He is proud to be part of a generation that pursues social justice through art and culture.
Mona (Montréal): "The Pride parade is about showing that we're here, that we exist, so that people can see us and know that our families are just regular families. We know there are all kinds of families, yet there are still gaps in legal protections."
Mona Greenbaum helped reform the Quebec Civil Code in 2002 to allow same-sex couples to adopt children born or living in Quebec, or to start their families through assisted procreation. It meant that she and her same-sex partner could be recognized as equal parents of their children. She has since continued the fight for equal rights and opportunities for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parents. Mona is executive director of the LGBT Family Coalition in Quebec, where one of their current projects is focused on tackling homophobia and transphobia in schools.
Kevin (Vancouver): "With my own family history, I know that coming to a new country is terrifying. If I'm fortunate in the world, I will have more opportunity to do good and take that opportunity."
Kevin Takahide Lee is of Japanese and Chinese descent, with grandparents who were imprisoned and forcibly relocated as Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War. He feels a strong connection to his family's history and is moved to tell their story. He was also invited by Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission to be part of a cross-cultural panel. Kevin is a professional tenor with the Vancouver Opera and started a choir for newcomers to Canada, which welcomes others looking to bridge multicultural and multigenerational divides.