Katherine Gilks, Outreach Coordinator

(For my initial thoughts on the 2021 Virtual Heritage Fair, see my May 10 blog post.)

On Thursday, June 17 at 10am, the video of our Virtual Heritage Fair Award Ceremony and the accompanying list of award- and prize-winners will be released on our website. Check out this page! The video and the list will remain up for the rest of 2021 and into the 2022 season. Meanwile, our project gallery will continue to be viewable throughout the summer. I encourage everyone to check out the projects!

Once again, congratulations to everyone who submitted a project, and congratulations especially to the award winners!

Thank you to all students, parents, teachers, sponsors, contributors, and judges for helping to make the 2021 Virtual Heritage Fair possible. We are truly grateful that we have been able to continue our Heritage Fairs program throughout 2020 and 2021.

I have now been coordinating the Heritage Fairs program for seven years, having taken the reins toward the end of the 2014 season. Over that time, the program has grown and evolved. Approximately 3000 separate students have participated in the Regional, Provincial, and Virtual Heritage Fairs since 2014, many of whom have now graduated high school. Thousands of students have participated in their school fairs. Since the program goes back to the late 1990s, I am continuously meeting people who either did a project in the past (and often have fond memories of it) or had a friend, child, sibling, or close relative/friend's child who created a project. 

Nonetheless, until last year, the Heritage Fair remained familiarly the same. While some aspects of the program changed in the 2000s and then when Heritage Saskatchewan took on the program in 2013, the core process from the perspective of the student was: 1) research a topic; 2) write a report; 3) create a display and presentation; and 4) present the project to judges, who would ask various questions in person. If the judges liked the project and gave it a good score, the student would get to repeat the process at the regional and provincial levels. Along the way, the students would get to participate in activities and meet other students.

The Covid-19 pandemic provided an opportunity to take a risk with the program. The prospect of a virtual event or component had long been discussed, but was hard to implement. There are many good reasons to include a virtual component, the number one reason being that it opens up the Heritage Fairs program to students throughout the province. Creating a static project that you present once (and not in real time) requires different skills than presenting a project live. On the one hand, you can edit it; on the other hand, you can't clarify something or answer a question that a judge might have. There are many possibilities available for creating projects online, whereas in person, one is limited by space and technical requirements. 

This year, there was a wide range of projects using different platforms. Some students adapted a traditional backboard-and-diorama for online. Some created audiobooks. Some did videos and PowerPoint presentations. Some focused on their writing. Some chose to branch out and create artwork and poetry. I am impressed by the creativity of the students and the freedom that they took to tell their stories.

All that to say, I hope we can continue to have enthusiasm for the 2022 Virtual Heritage Fair, even as we can gather again for our in-person events.

I look forward to meeting students and teachers in person again. Everyone misses interacting with each other. As I recorded our Virtual Awards Ceremony earlier this month, I really noticed the missing applause. Judges missed getting to tell the students in the moment how much they enjoyed the projects. Students miss gathering to share their projects with each other. So the 2022 Regional Heritage Fairs and Provincial Heritage Fair will be back! 

Our success with our Virtual Heritage Fairs has also given us the opportunity to launch our High School Heritage Challenge in the fall of 2021 - a project that has been years in the brainstorming phase! More details about that program will be available online this summer as the next school year starts.

The Heritage Fairs are one of the major highlights of the year for me and I have enjoyed the opportunity to learn from the students in greater detail with the Virtual Heritage Fairs. There were a lot of new topics this year! I strongly recommend that everyone take a look at the projects, no matter how familiar you think you are with Saskatchewan or Canadian heritage. You will be entertained, you will have cause to soberly reflect, you might very well work up an appetite, and I guarantee you will learn many new things.