Encounters with Canada, the country’s largest youth forum, brings 3,200 youth to Ottawa every year for a week to learn about national history, culture and institutions. Encounters is a program of the not-for-profit heritage organization Historica Canada. It was created in 1982 to promote youth leadership and knowledge of Canada through interaction with national capital institutions and events, as well as with prominent guest speakers. In over 30 years, more than 95,000 students have participated in the program.
Encounters with Canada first opened its doors to participants on 19 September 1982. The program was founded by the Canadian Unity Council, a private not-for-profit organization. In 1978, the Canadian Unity Council released the results of a national survey that showed interest in a pan-Canadian program for youth to raise awareness of Canadian history and society. The Canadian Unity Council’s goal was to create a program that would “make a significant impact in promoting a better understanding of Canada among young Canadians.” The Centre’s opening ceremony, held on 28 October 1982, was attended by then governor general of Canada, the Right Honourable Ed Schreyer, and Betty and Rolly Fox, along with other dignitaries. In 1983, Mr. Schreyer presented the program with a cheque for $250,000 on behalf of Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, originally a gift to the couple from the Royal Canadian Legion. "It's nice to see a wedding gift put to such good use," said Prince Charles, while visiting the Centre with Princess Diana on 22 June 1983. Since its inception in 1982, the program has been supported by the Government of Canada. In 2006, Encounters’ very existence was threatened by the closure of the Canadian Unity Council. The Historica Foundation, an organization dedicated to Canadian history and civic education, agreed to purchase Encounters the same year.
Program and Curriculum
Every year, some 3,200 teenagers aged 14 to 17 travel from across the country to meet in Ottawa for a week of experiential activities that promote youth leadership, citizenship and knowledge of Canada. The program is based at The Terry Fox Canadian Youth Centre, formerly the Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, which was renamed in tribute to the inspirational young athlete in 1982. The complex, situated on 2.6 acres of land in east Ottawa, contains dormitories, volunteer quarters, a cafeteria-auditorium, classrooms and recreational spaces. The program operates with the support of over 1,000 volunteers. Every year, some 160 current and retired teachers donate time and expertise as monitors. Encounters with Canada is recognized by every Ministry of Education across the country, and works with schools and school boards to recruit and support students attending the program. The program is fully bilingual, and includes three major components:
- Canadian institutions, including visits to Parliament and museums, a guided tour of the national capital and participation in various cultural events;
- A series of educational modules focused on topics such as official languages, youth engagement, peace and Canadian history;
- A career-themed program drawn from one of 13 topics: Arts and Culture, Canada Remembers, Ecology and Environment, Experience Canada, International Affairs, Journalism and Communications, Law, Medicine and Health, Politics in Canada, RCMP, Science and Technology, Sports and Fitness, and Vimy: Canada’s Coming of Age.
Many prominent Canadians have been involved in Encounters with Canada to help educate participants about national and international history. These include every prime minister since Pierre Elliott Trudeau, government leaders from every level, senators, every governor general since Ed Schreyer, noted Canadian scientists and astronauts (Marc Garneau, Roberta Bondar, Julie Payette), Olympic and Paralympic athletes (Carolyn Waldo, Elizabeth Manley, Charlene Wong, Alwyn Morris, Jean Labonté), hall of fame athletes (Ken Dryden), chief justices and judges of the Supreme Court (Antonio Lamer, Brian Dickson, Claire L'Heureux-Dubé, Peter Cory), Canadian authors (Richard Gwyn, Jack Granatstein, Charlotte Gray, Michael Ondaatje), poets, performing artists, singers (Alanis Morissette), comedians (Rick Mercer), Inuit and Aboriginal leaders, members of the Canadian Armed Forces (Roméo Dallaire, Major-General Lewis MacKenzie), RCMP commissioners, royalty (Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Edward), world leaders (Tony Blair, George H. W. Bush, Hillary Clinton) ambassadors, dignitaries and experts (Jane Goodall) from many other countries.
Notable Encounters with Canada alumni include:
- The Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Environment, Minister for the Arctic Council, Minister of Northern Economic Development Agency
- The Honourable Lisa MacCormack Raitt, Minister of Transport
- The Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment & Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism
- Member of Parliament and chair of Parliament's Standing Committee on Finance James Rajotte
- 2013 Rhodes Scholar Paul Manning
- Three-time Juno Award winning fiddler Ashley MacIsaac
- Actor Peter Mooney, best known for his role on the popular television program, Rookie Blue
- Newfoundland singer and guitarist Jackie Sullivan
- Sean McCann of the Canadian rock group, Great Big Sea
- Up-and-coming author Amy Bright
- Activist Jeremy Dias of Jer’s Vision
- Activist Taylor Quinn