Kourtney Lake breaking new ground
Bay Roberts woman to be first single mother to compete in long-running pageant
A young woman with pale skin and long, straight black hair spends a significant part of her day taking care of her three-year-old son in Bay Roberts.
The ambitious 20-year-old will begin school in October to become an interior designer.
On top of her already busy life, this single mother will begin a journey no other woman in the province has ever done before.
At the end of this month, Kourtney Lake will be the first mother to compete in the Miss Newfoundland and Labrador pageant at the Trinity Conception Fall Fair in Harbour Grace in the event’s 55 years.
In March the pageant began a transition that has brought about some big changes to the annual weekend. Two new directors were announced for the Miss NL committee — Miss NL 2006 Aimee Power of Bay Bulls and Harbour Grace native Chandell Vinnicombe — and they had plans of their own.
The two decided to modernize the event with a more formal atmosphere, said Vinnicomb.
Power added it was important to keep tradition but there were definitely some big changes that needed to take place.
The SW Moores Memorial Stadium — the long running venue of the festivities — will get a facelift Sept. 29 to transform the inside of the arena into a gala-style event with black velvet curtains and formal décor. But that is just the beginning. When the applications were released in April, the dynamic of the pageant industry in this province changed when a very traditional and widespread rule was removed from the contestant criteria.
The previous rule stated that a contestant must never have given birth to a child. However, the rule prohibiting prospective candidates who are married or divorced remains in place.
Now, single mothers are allowed to compete and Lake will be the first.
Why change the rule?
The committee is trying to maintain an all-inclusive pageant, and both directors agreed if the rule stayed, they were limiting a young woman from having the opportunity to represent their province at events.
“If a contestant is an adult with a child, then we have to assume they made a conscious choice to be a parent,” said Power. “No one deserves to be excluded because they have a child.”
Trinity Conception fall fair committee chair Dale Coombs said the entire committee was behind the pageant for the rule change.
“It shows us moving forward with the times,” Coombs explained. “It’s not about beauty, it’s about well-rounded young ladies.”
“Being a mom is not going to hold someone back from being a titleholder.”
The pageant has added a fundraising portion to their scoring this year and the proceeds will be going to the Single Parents Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.
“We are so happy to be helping out such a positive organization,” Power, who is a social worker, said.
The connection of the rule and the chosen charity weren’t intentional. In fact, the committee had no idea when they chose the charity that there would be a single mother competing.
First mom to compete
Lake was unaware of the previous rule for the pageant before submitting her application. She told The Compass her friends said she wasn’t allowed to compete.
“I joined the pageant because I told a few people about it and they asked if I could because I had a child,” Lake explained. “I said of course I can. And because people thought I couldn’t made me want to even more.”
The pageant committee did not think of the change as something that would be largely acknowledged and were quite excited to break that barrier.
“When (Lake) came to us and said she had a child, we were excited to have her,” explained Power. “It’s a great way to show other young women they can do whatever they want to, no matter their circumstance.”
Coombs also added, “Our family unit in society has changed and we decided we were going to change with it.”
Most pageants from all over the world have a stipulation that prevents young mothers from competing for a title in the “Miss” division – ages 18 to 27 for Miss NL.
In fact, the biggest pageant event in the world, Miss Universe, specifically states in their criteria that a contestant must not be pregnant, have a child or parented a child. Most of the preliminaries follow the same set of rules, including Miss Universe Canada.
The Miss World Canada organization also has the same rule.
In fact, the only publicly announced pageant that The Compass found that allowed single mothers was the Miss BC pageant in British Columbia.
Pageant director Kelsey Nichols replied to an email from The Compass.
“We do allow contestants to have children in our pageant,” wrote Nichols. “We also have a Mrs. category for those who are married. We feel all women should be able to compete no matter what their situation.”
There has been some backlash in recent years about the strict rules in mainstream pageants.
Last year a controversial rule that all contestants must be a naturally born female was challenged by Miss Universe Canada’s first transgendered contestant, Jenna Talackova. The rule was removed and she was allowed to compete.
Could this change at Miss Newfoundland and Labrador also bring about change in the pageant industry? Only time will tell.
Kourtney Lake is a 20-year-old single mother of three-year-old Oliver. The Bay Roberts resident will be the first contestant with a child to compete for the Miss Newfoundland title Sept. 29.