While I was busy with the Provincial Heritage Fair this year, this article came to my attention: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/p-e-i-national-heritage-fair-partners-split-up-1.4676002. It was in regards to the Young Citizens contest (put on by Canada’s History Society) and how only projects created by an individual student are eligible to compete.

This year, due to funding cuts at the national level, the Young Citizens program was much-reduced and Heritage Saskatchewan did not administer the program in this province, instead opening up the contest to any students who had created Heritage Fair projects and to work with Canada’s History directly. However, Young Citizens is still a very worthy program and was much-missed this year!

Getting back the article, the “no partner projects” rule has been a frustrating sticking point for many years, even prior to the Young Citizens contest. Back when there was a National Heritage Fair, only one student per project would be allowed to attend. (It is also my understanding that this was the rule at the Provincial Fair as well.) In short, even though two students would work hard to create a project together, only one student would get the chance to participate at the Provincial and National levels.

Naturally, this caused problems! While not only out of step with current educational trends toward collaborative projects, it put wedges between students and caused rifts between friends. In the case of Young Citizens, the two partners would have the opportunity to both create videos and be in competition with each other, which sabotages the good relationship that they likely had built in creating the project together.

As quoted in the article, the point of Heritage Fairs is not to win a trip. Creating the project is supposed to be a reward unto itself, with the possibility of winning a contest only an incentive to do a good job and put in extra effort. However, half of the students are technically ineligible for Young Citizens from the get-go because they choose to do a project with another student. Where is the incentive?

Things are done differently in every province and territory, so I have no further comment on how my counterparts have dealt with this situation. Any solution is admirable! In Saskatchewan, we decided to go ahead with allowing partner projects at all levels while making it clear that Young Citizens was a separate contest with separate rules.

As also discussed in the article, the main issue is funding. Transportation costs at the national level are very high, let alone accommodation and meals. No one disputes that. When Heritage Saskatchewan took on the Heritage Fairs program, it was decided that we would try to focus on “number of students” versus “number of projects” precisely so that we could more easily plan for these costs at the provincial level.

But we have realised that we were mistaken in focusing too much on these cost-saving measures. We thought it was a nice compromise, but it meant that a) we could not plan for how many projects we would have at each Regional Fair and then the Provincial Fair; b) schools could not divide up their allotted number of Regional Fair spots fairly among participating classes; and c) there was inevitably confusion every year and students consequently suffered, with some students being practically erased from their own projects.

However, not all of our Regional Fairs chose this route – instead, they determined the precise number of projects that they could fit into their space and then divided these spots among the schools accordingly. Partners were allowed to attend and participate fully. Schools were simply able to select their classroom winners regardless of the number of students, and if their “last-place” qualifier was a partnered project, there was no question of whether or not the second student could attend.

Thus, for 2019, our Provincial Fair will be following the same model. Fifty projects will be selected for the Provincial Fair, to be divided up among our regions. Yes, that might mean 100 students – but if it does, so be it. Realistically, it will likely still be around 60-65 students.

Heritage Fairs is about the students researching and creating their projects – the skills they acquire, the facts they learn, the insights they gain into Canada’s past, present, and future. It is about finding something that they are passionate about learning more about and sharing with others. It is often a project that they want to work on with one of their friends. Sometimes, they get the chance to work with a student that they do not know very well and learn something about their shared heritage in the process.

They should not have to throw that all away in order to receive provincial or national recognition, or have to take all of that into consideration before even choosing their topic.

Katherine Gilks, Education Coordinator, Heritage Saskatchewan
Katherine joined Heritage Saskatchewan in 2013 and is responsible for the Heritage Fairs program for the province of Saskatchewan. She is passionate about heritage, education, and sharing stories. A native of Regina, Katherine received her B.A. (History) from the University of Victoria and her M.L.I.S. from the University of Western Ontario. Among her various previous places of employment are the Greater Victoria Public Library and the Regina Plains Museum (now the Civic Museum of Regina).