What it means to belong A sense of belonging helps build safe, vibrant communities and brings purpose to our lives. Community Foundations of Canada explores how we can foster belonging throughout the country.
This year, Canadians are marking our country’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. For some, this is an opportunity to dream big about our collective future. For others, the sesquicentennial is raising questions about our past and sparking important conversations around the idea of who belongs and what builds belonging in our communities. As a country with multicultural and multilingual roots, Canada has long been engaged in a debate about the topic of belonging. But, recent research suggests that conversation is more important now than ever. Today, one-third of Canadians report a weak sense of community belonging. One of the most pressing urban issues is a sense of isolation, loneliness, and disconnection, according to a study by Vancouver Foundation. How did we get here? Communities today are very different from those that celebrated — and contested — Canada’s centennial in 1967. More than half of Canadians no longer live in the community in which they grew up. Our economy is more urban and serviceoriented. Our families are smaller. We vote less and work more. We live longer. Our population has aged significantly. And, while we may have more ways to connect these days, we spend less faceto-face time with the people we know. We also continue to struggle with issues of acceptance. People in minority-official-language communities still have difficulty accessing services in their language. A large number of Canadians who identify as visible minorities experience racial discrimination when applying for work opportunities or housing. And this is to say nothing of the long journey to acknowledge the country’s colonial history and our shared path towards reconciliation. Vancouver Foundation’s research led Community Foundations of Canada to look more closely at the issue of belonging through Vital Signs, a national program that uses community data to provide a focus for public debate and civic engagement. What has emerged is an understanding that belonging is really a two-way street: it is about how much people fit in, but it’s also about how much they’re welcomed. When communities are made up of people who trust each other and feel that they belong, good things happen: individuals are healthier, neighbourhoods are safer, cultures and identities flourish, and societies bounce back after emergencies. Participation is not just about community involvement. What’s clear is that, if we are going to cultivate belonging in Canada, we must strengthen our relationships with the people around us and ensure that we are welcoming to difference and diversity. This will only become more evident
as Canada continues to evolve into a country of large urban centres with growing visible-minority, Indigenous, and newcomer populations. We have a collective responsibility to open up the urgent and deep conversations that must occur in our communities right now. Belonging connects to some of today’s most pressing conversations about refugee settlement, workplace diversity, gender equality, and reconciliation. We must encourage social participation while recognizing and transcending the barriers, both overt and hidden, that prevent it from happening. This includes improving the systems that underpin our society and influencing the ways in which people experience belonging or non-belonging every day. Canada’s sesquicentennial offers us an opportunity to reflect on the many ways in which we can build the foundations of belonging, not just through laws and policies, but also through local leadership and investments that help strengthen relationships between neighbours, coworkers, families, and friends. The country is in a unique position on the global stage to show how multiculturalism and pluralism can bring communities together, advance economic prosperity through innovation, and deepen cultural awareness. Looking back at the scale of change over the past 150 years, it’s hard not to wonder where Canada’s communities will be in the future. That’s why it’s vitally important for us to examine how we can work together to create a more welcoming society. Belonging, after all, is not just a feeling; it’s a powerful catalyst for healthier communities and a more inclusive Canada.
BELONGING: EXPLORING CONNECTION TO COMMUNITY For more information about our three-year journey exploring belonging in Canada, visit communityfoundations.ca/vitalsigns