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Organizers learn valuable lessons after hosting first-ever virtual Heritage Fair

"It was wonderful to have so many students share their projects in this new format"
Heritage Sask logo
Heritage Saskatchewan.

Heritage Saskatchewan says its first-ever virtual provincial Heritage Fair went very well, while it will use the lessons learned from this year to improve the event in the future.

The organization put together a virtual fair in May after the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of schools and cancellation of all in-person fairs at the school, regional and provincial levels. Much to the organization’s surprise, it received a greater-than-expected response from youths, with 346 students — some working in teams — submitted 295 projects.

“… It was wonderful to have so many students share their projects in this new format,” Katherine Gilks, projects co-ordinator, told the Express.

Some schools that were participating for the first time in the program decided to wait until next year to fully take part, while others chose to get involved in the new format wholeheartedly, she continued. Since this year’s virtual fair was a pilot project and was put together quickly, organizers learned many lessons about how to improve it in the future. This should also make it a more straightforward process for students, parents, judges and the organization itself.  

Heritage Saskatchewan plans to include the digital aspect of the fair in future Heritage Fairs. However, it will still have the in-person component where judges talk to students and families can visit each booth. The virtual Heritage Fair will again be open to all students in Saskatchewan in grades 4 to 8.

“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were uncertain as to what response we would get for our virtual Heritage Fair. We tried to make it as open as possible. This meant we had a wide variety in terms of what was submitted for each entry,” Gilks explained.

“In the future, we will better define expectations from students and from judges. However, because schools were in different stages of completion of their projects in mid-March, what happened was best under the circumstances.”

There were some unfortunate outcomes in moving to a virtual format, such as how some students were unable to participate due to technological or economic barriers, said Gilks. In the future, Heritage Saskatchewan could mitigate this by giving students access to their schools and libraries.

Some questions that Gilks received from the public were about why heritage is important to celebrate during the pandemic, why Heritage Saskatchewan launched this contest during a crisis, and why it simply didn’t cancel it altogether. In a blog post, she pointed out that heritage and culture are what guide society through tough times, for better or for worse.

There has been much discussion lately of how Canada’s ancestors survived during crises, how life was in the past, and how society today might change in the future, she wrote. Knowing that crises of the past eventually ended should provide people with hope. Learning about how people overcame challenges should also  inspire people to rise to the current challenge.

“Heritage and culture are also keeping our spirits up in other ways. Many Heritage Fair projects are about sports or art. While sports have been postponed or cancelled for this year, learning about them reminds us of happier times and that they will be back again. We will also have music and tourism again,” Gilks said.

All 295 projects in the Virtual Heritage Fair demonstrated Canadian heritage and culture in some way, she added. She is amazed every year at the topics students research and she learns something new every year. From farm life to historical events to wild animals to ordinary Canadians, there is always something exciting to learn.