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Story earns student trip to Rideau Hall

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Eleven-year-old Amber Trails resident Kelsey Omaga is one of two Canadian kids invited to the Governor General’s History Awards.

While attending Holy Ghost School, Omaga was encouraged by her Grade 6 teacher, Laura Gentile, to enter the Kayak Kids’ Illustrated History Challenge, an annual contest offered by Kayak: Canada’s History Magazine for Kids.

Omaga, now in Grade 7 at St. Mary’s Academy, created a story based on the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Chinese labourers who were contracted to build it.  

"I wrote it in the perspective of one of the (Chinese) immigrants who was one of the workers," Omaga says."We were actually learning (about the construction of the CPR) in social studies class at the same time I was writing the story. I just found it really interesting to see how they treated people during the building of the railway and I thought it would be really fun to write a story about it."

In her story and illustrations, Omaga depicted how Chinese railway workers were paid only $1 a day, built some of the most difficult stretches of the railway and slept in unsafe canvas tents, which were exposed to falling rocks and horrible weather.

"The way they treated the Chinese labourers, because they had to do all the hard jobs, yet they were paid the least amount, I just didn’t think it was right for people to treat them like that," Omaga says.

Omaga will receive her award from Gov. Gen. David Johnston on Nov. 19 in Ottawa at Rideau Hall. The trip is all-expenses-paid and Omaga will also receive a $1,000 RESP to go towards her post-secondary education.

"The reason we do this contest is we really want to put the kids front and centre at the research and discovery of our history," says Deborah Morrison, president and CEO of Canada’s History Society, which publishes Kayak and Canada’s History (formerly The Beaver) magazine.

"We think by having them create the story, history has more meaning for them. They take more ownership over it, they care for it more. We also want to encourage literacy and good writing."

Morrison says she’s impressed with the content of Omaga’s story, especially the Chinese railway workers aspect.

"It wasn’t so long ago that these kinds of stories weren’t known," Morrison says. "Kelsey’s story speaks loudly to how much history has improved over the last couple decades, that kids are able to dig deeper. It’s not just about national achievement but there’s lots of stories behind those big significant milestones and moments and to have her research and write about that is pretty fantastic."

Go to www.canadashistory.ca/GGAwards to read Omaga’s story.

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