The Walrus

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.

- by Andrew Chunilall, CEO, Community Foundation­s of Canada

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 communityf­

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