British Columbia

'A big emotional shot in the arm': G Day brings girls together in Burnaby, B.C.

At a time when stories of sexual harassment and abuse of women are daily news, an event was held in Burnaby, B.C., Friday to empower and celebrate girls as they transition from childhood to adolesence.

'A lot of the courage I have today came from G Day,' says past participant Tru Wilson

Dozens of girls and volunteers gather at the Ismaili Centre in Burnaby, B.C., for the 2017 G Day, an event designed to celebrate and support girls as they transition into adolescence. (Stephanie Mercier/CBC)

At a time when stories of sexual harassment and abuse of women are daily news, an event was held in Burnaby, B.C., Friday to empower and celebrate girls as they make the transition from childhood to adolescence.

G Day was founded in Vancouver four years ago by social entrepreneur Madeleine Shaw.

Madeleine Shaw founded G Day in Vancouver in 2014. (Stephanie Mercier/CBC)

Shaw had the idea in 2013 after being asked to give a public talk about how she would change a city if she could.

Her thoughts went back to when she was an adolescent girl and how excited she was to become an adult woman.

Rite of passage

But she says there was nothing to mark that transition.

"The idea came back to me that I wanted there to be a special day and a celebration," Shaw said. 

So Shaw created G Day — a day full of workshops and activities for girls between the ages of 10 and 12 — as a rite of passage for the "modern, urban, secular society."

"If you think about rites of passage, we do them all the time. We go to weddings, we go to baby showers, we go to graduations. But in terms of our life phases, we don't, for the most part," she said. 

Learning skills, having fun

Presenters are drawn from the local community and can be educators, business leaders, politicians or those with inspiring stories.

Saleema Noon is a sexual health educator and has been involved in G Day since its inception. 

"I think that when girls come to G Day, they understand what a celebration adolescence and growing up can be," Noon said.

"They not only learn really important skills and gain critical knowledge at their age, but they get to have fun and just enjoy being a girl."

Musician Desirée Dawson, who won CBC's Searchlight 2016 contest with her song Hide, was invited to sing and speak with the girls. 

"I just talked to them about how it was for me growing up and feeling the need to fit in all the time and that led me to want to hide," Dawson said.

"If you come out of hiding and kind of face your fears, then beautiful things happen."

Providing inspiration

Presenter Tru Wilson attended G Day a few years ago herself. 

Transgender advocate Tru Wilson (left) is a past participant and now presenter at G Day. Her mother, Michelle Wilson, is also presenting at this year's event. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

"G Day as I remember it was the most amazing experience of my life," she said. 

Wilson is now back to share her own story of battling her Catholic school in court so she could be treated as the gender she identifies with. 

"Hopefully that'll give them inspiration and courage to live their life with truth and just not be afraid to live life as their authentic self," she said. 

12-year-old Heather Thwaites was already feeling energized half way through the day.

Girls and volunteers participate in an activity during G Day in Burnaby, B.C., on Oct. 20, 2017. (Stephanie Mercier/CBC)

"It's really nice and really inspiring to hear all these people come in," she said.

Of becoming a young adult, she adds she's excited, "but also kind of nervous about everything."

Spreading the movement

Parents, guardians or other important adults are now invited along as 'champions.'

Elizabeth Sheehan came with her granddaughter, Rheagan. 

Heather Thwaites (right), 12, says she is excited but a little nervous about becoming an adolescent. Her father, Joe Thwaites, says attending this year is a great opportunity to help adults be better parents. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

"It's such an important passage into adulthood," Sheehan said, adding she's happy her granddaughter has this chance to celebrate and learn. 

"I didn't have it and I'm so glad that she is."

G Day has already spread across Canada with recent events in Toronto and Victoria and ones in the works for Whitehorse and Calgary in 2018.

Shaw's goal is to make it a national movement to support as many young people as possible.

"What we're trying to do is give them a big emotional shot in the arm that says, 'You're awesome right now.'"