There were never any tickets for sale for one of the hottest events in Toronto.
Nevertheless, 20,000 students and educators from more than 1,000 schools across Ontario packed the Air Canada Centre (ACC) with enough energy to raise the roof at the ninth annual WE Day celebration Oct 19.
WE Day is the culmination of the WE Movement which is a family of charitable and social enterprise organizations. Their goal is to empower young people to make a difference both at home and around the world.
An ocean of students surged into the ACC to experience the ‘greatest classroom in the world’ at a full-day live event. A series of world-renowned speakers and performers including Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, Margaret Trudeau, the mother of Canada’s prime minister, and astronaut Chris Hadfield took turns to inspire the young crowd.
“You can’t buy a ticket to WE Day. It’s a movement. When we come together, we create massive change,” said Craig Kielburger, as he pranced around the stage alongside his elder brother, Marc. The brothers co-founded the family of organizations in 1996 when Craig was 12-years-old.
The younger Kielburger was inspired to be an advocate for change after he read a newspaper article about another 12-year-old, Iqbal Masih from Pakistan. Masih was murdered for speaking out against child slavery. Kielburger took the newspaper to his Grade 7 classmates the next day and started a group to try and make a difference.
Since 2007 youth involved in the WE Schools program have raised more than $62 million for more than 2,500 local and global organizations. They have also volunteered 19.9 million hours and collected 7.6 million pounds of food for those in need.
Students in the schools involved in the program earn the right to attend the event by taking action in one local and one global cause.
Twin sisters Nivaal and Maryam Rehman, Grade 10 activists from Sinclair High School in Whitby, filmed the event for their own YouTube Channel, The World with MNR.
The girls said they hope to raise awareness for issues such as gender equality, girls’ education and environmental sustainability.
“It’s extremely inspirational, there’s lots of positive energy,” the girls said in unison about the event at the lunchtime break.
The twins were born in Pakistan and moved to Canada in 2006. They were inspired to become activists when their grandmother donated land in her village to build a girls’ school there to give girls the same opportunities as boys.
Since then, the two 15-year-olds have continued to be involved in community and environmental issues in Canada, Pakistan and around the world. They participated in the WE campaigns, WE are Silent and WE Scare Hunger. In 2015 the sisters were awarded the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award for their work in global and local communities.
Tragically Hip frontman, Gord Downie drove all night from Ottawa to perform at the event. His latest album, Secret Path was inspired by the plight of the indigenous communities in the residential school system, particularly 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack.
The stadium heard the story of Wenjack who escaped the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School near Kenora, Ont. in 1966. Last weekend marked the 50th anniversary of his death. The young audience watched in quiet reverence during Downie’s emotional performance of The Stanger.
Downie, who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer earlier this year, illustrated Wenjack’s final ordeal; a walk down a frozen railway track after he escaped from the school. Downie ended the song collapsed and crumpled at the front of the stage.
Other speakers and performers energized the crowd throughout the day. High school student, swimmer and Olympic gold medalist, Penny Oleksiak spoke about the importance of motivation and dedication in achieving dreams.
Margaret Trudeau, the mother of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, spoke of her struggles with mental health.
WE Day has more stops scheduled this fall throughout Canada and next spring venues will include stops in the U.S. and London, U.K.