Heather Munroe-Blum, Heather Reisman, and Col. Chris Hadfield Announce the Launch of the Canadian Children’s Literacy Foundation

Heather Reisman, Chair & CEO of Indigo and Chair of the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation, Col. Chris Hadfield, Canadian Astronaut and Author, and Heather Munroe-Blum, Principal and Vice-Chancellor Emerita of McGill University and Chairperson of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, have announced the launch of a new charitable foundation – the Canadian Children’s Literacy Foundation; Fondation pour l’alphabétisation des enfants canadiens.

The initial impetus for this initiative grew out of long discussions between Reisman and Munroe-Blum about their deep interest in the essential importance of early childhood literacy, and their respective exposure to childhood literacy research, dedicated NGO efforts, practitioners in the field of elementary education, and knowledge of “facts on the ground”, particularly in high-needs communities.

Over the course of 18 months the idea for the Foundation took shape, and an exceptional group of passionate Canadians committed to bringing the Foundation to life in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday.

The founders of the newly created Canadian Children’s Literacy Foundation include:

  • Ms. Heather Reisman, CEO of Indigo and Chair of the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation
  • Ms. Heather Munroe-Blum, Principal and Vice-Chancellor Emerita of McGill University and Chairperson of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board
  • The Right Honourable Paul Martin, Former Prime Minister of Canada and Minister of Finance
  • Col. Chris Hadfield, Canadian Astronaut and Author
  • Mr. Ellis Jacob, President and CEO of Cineplex
  • Mr. David Walmsley, Editor-in-Chief of The Globe and Mail
  • Mr. Peter Mansbridge, Chief Correspondent at CBC News
  • Dr. Alika LaFontaine, Anesthesiologist and past-President of the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada
  • Ms. Naomi Azrieli, Chair and CEO of The Azrieli Foundation
  • Mr. Daniel Lamarre, President and CEO of Cirque du Soleil
  • Mr. Domenic Pilla, CEO of McKesson Canada

The Mission of the Canadian Children’s Literacy Foundation is:  To ensure that ALL Canadian children are skilled, confident readers by the time they complete grade school – thus making Canadian children the most literate in the world.

The Foundation’s core beliefs include the following:

  • All Canadian children are deserving of access and opportunity to develop strong reading skills and become literate members of society.
  • Literacy is currently spread unequally and unevenly across Canada, with significant pockets of low childhood literacy.ii
  • Low literacy rates disproportionately affect lower income communities,iii and by extension, perpetuate multi-generational cycles of deep inequality.iv
  • Literacy development begins at birth and imprints in early childhood.v
  • Children who have not mastered reading by the end of grade 3 will generally struggle with reading for the rest of their lives.vi
  • Literacy is a fundamental factor in the economic strength and social health of our nation.vii In a technologically advanced world, strong literacy ability will become even more important to unlock doors of opportunity, build social understanding, and lift individual and societal quality of life.
  • Outstanding work already being done in Canada in the field of childhood literacy should be enabled. The Foundation’s aim is to support and enhance these efforts and collaborate to achieve world-leading results.

Key areas of focus will include:

  • Outreach and support to organizations currently working in the field of childhood literacy;
  • Direct funding enabling childhood literacy in under-resourced schools and communities;
  • Financial support for research and dissemination of findings on childhood literacy from birth onward, including vocabulary acquisition and early reading;
  • A broad literacy awareness campaign providing information on the key factors which influence and inspire a love of reading in early childhood;
  • A special focus on charities that support obstetricians and pediatricians in helping young parents develop literacy in their children, and those charitable organizations especially targeting community physicians in areas with disproportionate literacy gaps.

A long-time advocate of literacy for Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, and founding member of this new Foundation, The Right Honourable Paul Martin, said: “It is well known that the ability to read and write by the end of Grade 3 is an essential condition for future success. We cannot ignore the literacy needs of the youngest and fastest growing segment of our population – Indigenous children. We must act now.”

According to Munroe-Blum, “Low literacy skills condemn individuals to a relentless cycle of poverty, underemployment, higher likelihood of incarceration, and greater health problems, all of which impact their lives, their families, and the economic and social future of our country.  But, the good news is, we can fix this problem. We simply have to decide to do it.”

Reisman added, “The economic and social rewards within our collective grasp are beyond exciting. It is nothing short of our responsibility to move forward boldly.”

Fast facts about the literacy crisis in Canada:

  • Children who do not develop strong literacy skills are more likely to: drop out of high school,viii become teenage parents,ix be under or unemployed,x and end up on welfare.xi,xii
  • Provincial support for Canadian school libraries and teacher-librarians is in serious decline.xiii
  • 80% of those in prison are functionally illiterate.xiv
  • A 1% increase in the national literacy rate would generate $32 billion in economic growth annually.xv

Today, the Canadian Children’s Literacy Foundation launches its initial digital presence at childrensliteracy.ca.

An executive search for the position of CEO of the new foundation is underway, led by Dr. Janet Wright, President, Janet Wright and Associates Inc. admin@jwasearch.com.