Canada Life Literacy Innovation Award Honourable Mention Winners

Earlier this year, ABC Life Literacy Canada awarded five organizations with the Canada Life Literacy Innovation Award. The top winner was REP Here in Canada, whom we profiled in an earlier post. The four honourable mention winners are also doing great work that we would like to acknowledge.

Burnaby School District 41

Burnaby School District 41’s Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program offers literacy training for learners with limited literacy skills in their native language. With a focus on settlement-related themes and real-world tasks, the program gives them confidence to succeed in regular LINC classes. Through 450 hours of instruction, participants develop health, family, digital, and cultural literacy skills.

The program has shown strong results. Many learners began the course unable to read and write in any language. By the end, they had moved on from Literacy LINC Classes, found employment, and were reading and writing dozens of English words.

The progress has been fulfilling for learners. One learner, Assadullah, said, “Linda [my instructor] helped me to read. I learned to read notices and information for shopping. I cannot find the words to explain how much I respect Linda.”

Centre for Family Literacy

Over 20 years ago, Edmonton’s Centre for Family Literacy (CFL) pioneered their unique idea – a family literacy program on wheels. Since then, the Classroom on Wheels (COW) Bus has engaged over 5,000 learners around the Edmonton area.

The COW Bus creates a safe and judgment-free environment for families as they look for opportunities to learn together. Facilitators offer storytimes, songs, rhymes and props for children to play with. Families are invited to take books home to read with them.

The COW Bus has helped adults overcome anxieties around reading with their children. One participant, Sunny, wrote, “Before I found the Cow Bus program, I was worried. I had no clue how to read a book to the kids. I did not know how to educate my 4-year-old girl and 2-year-old boy. The strong desire of learning English with my kids has driven me to the local library. From there I found this amazing Cow Bus program. My eyes were wide opened and my brain was getting creative.”

John Howard Society of Ottawa

For clients at the John Howard Society of Ottawa (JHSO), life can be overwhelming. As individuals who have come into conflict with the law, barriers to leading a stable and fulfilled life are manifold. They face mental health issues, addiction, precarious incomes, and other challenges.

The JHSO’s Skills Plus program adopts a client-centred approach that works to build confidence, self-esteem, and social skills. Regular workshops on mindfulness help clients foster a greater sense of balance. Celebrating clients’ successes have helped them shed negative labels (e.g. criminal, addict) in favour of more positive ones. Field trips to cultural institutions like the War Museum give clients the chance to explore parts of the community they might otherwise avoid.

The program has shown remarkable results. More than 70 per cent of clients feel that their lives are more stable after joining Skills Plus. One learner, Steve, began the program during a difficult point in his life—struggling with trauma, ADHD and justice involvement. Over time, the program changed him. When asked about one of the best things about Skills Plus, he replied it had made him “feel human” again.

Literacy Coalition of New Brunswick

In New Brunswick, like in much of Atlantic Canada, the fisheries industry is a pivotal part of the community. However, employers have long struggled to fill advertised positions, finding that applicants did not have the necessary abilities. It’s an industry that demands good numeracy, digital literacy and document use — but employers were finding that applicants did not have adequate literacy levels.

The Literacy Coalition of New Brunswick (LCNB) saw an opportunity. Their Essential Skills for Atlantic Fisheries (ESAF) program provides learners with industry-specific literacy and essential skills training. ESAF uses mentors to support learners in their journey to improved skills and job prospects.

Working with partner literacy coalitions throughout Atlantic Canada, LCNB has run the program since February 2018, serving almost 250 learners. For some, the experience has been transformational. One learner, who had difficulty finding a job and challenges with dyslexia, saw the program as a second chance. “I was more afraid of the computer than I was of the class,” he said. “I go online once a day now. I’m getting on by myself, I’m doing the video chats. It’s unbelievable.”

The Canada Life Literacy Innovation Award is generously sponsored by Canada Life.

“It’s our pleasure to congratulate this year’s deserving top and honourable mention winners,” said Debbie Down, Director, Community Relations at Canada Life. “At Canada Life, we support educational initiatives that focus on adult literacy and recognize the need for programs that provide adult learners with the essential skills they need to succeed in life. That is why we’re proud to support ABC Life Literacy Canada and the Canada Life Literacy Innovation Award. Working together with community organizations, we make a positive impact that helps improve the well-being of all Canadians.”

To learn more about the Canada Life Literacy Innovation Award, and how your organization can apply, visit