‘It’s really local if it’s personal’

By Taylor McClure – Special to Brome County News

Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network encourages local history through annual contests

The Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network (QAHN) has kickstarted its annual Heritage Essay and Heritage Photo contests. Both contests are province-wide with the Heritage Essay dedicated to elementary school-aged children and the Heritage Photo dedicated to high-school aged children. Both contests have been a tradition for the group and play an important part in encouraging children and adolescents to take interest in the local history of their community and beyond.

“The essay contest has been going on for close to 20 years. It’s province-wide so elementary schools across Quebec are invited. Last year with Covid, it got tricky so a lot of usual schools didn’t participate,” said Matthew Farfan, executive director of QAHN. “In fact, one school in Montreal, had to go home due to Covid and all the essays were in class, so they couldn’t actually submit them. Fifty or 60 students who usually submit, couldn’t.”

The Heritage Photo contest for high school-students started some 15 years ago. “At that time, everyone was getting cell phones and we didn’t need a big clunky camera. Kids are really tech savvy and even the crappier cell phones have good cameras now. They can go in the living room and take a picture of a heirloom piece of furniture or a senior that they know and write a couple of paragraphs to go along with the photograph.”

Many participants do the contest independently at home, but teachers also incorporate them in their classroom. “Some teachers realize that this is a way to encourage kids in their class, to do an assignment, and to use this contest to add some incentive and to make it a little bit more fun. One of the high schools in Montreal has a photography club and they use it as an excuse to have a theme for their semester. The kids walk around town and photograph things that they think are heritage or history connected. It’s really broad and open to how to interpret heritage.”

What is heritage ?
That is a question the contests encourage participants to explore by getting out and discovering the history in their local community and even within their family. “If you are going to hook kids on being interested in history, it’s going to be by appealing to them through things that they know and see. Maybe there is some interesting or whacky story connected to their community and those are the types of things we like to care about; a local character that had a strange contribution to the village or an incident and a local hero. If kids are encouraged at a young age, they might retain an interest in history as they grow older.”

Farfan said that while some history teachers hook their students, for many, the subject comes off as boring in the classroom and the contests help bridge that gap by allowing history to be more personal. “Some kids write about jewelry they have inherited or will inherit from parents or grandparents. They might have a little story attached to a ring or a broach or something. They make it very personal which is really fun because history is personal and that’s where you start when you encourage local history; it’s really local if its personal. What did my family do and what are their stories? They gain interest from things they appreciate, their neighbors, and other people they know.”

While Covid has put a damper on the activities the last couple of years, QAHN is hoping that more people will get involved, especially Townshippers, they haven’t had a submission from the region in a couple of years. “I’m hoping it picks up. Usually we have about 10 different schools that participate on average every year, but you never know. Sometimes teachers are busy with other things and they don’t get to it. The hardest part is getting to actual teachers.”

Those wishing to participate in the contest need to have their material submitted by April 30th. A panel of judges made up of volunteers from QAHN will evaluate the submissions to choose a couple of winners. Winners are eligible to win a prize and some of the top submissions will be published in QAHN’s quarterly journal.

For more information about the contest and where to submit, visit https://qahn.org/kids-heritage-essay-contest.

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