By Ariel Vered
Tossing a coin into the Centennial Flame fountain on Parliament Hill is a popular tourist tradition, but what happens to all that change?
It actually goes toward a valuable initiative: an annual monetary award given by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. The 2016 Centennial Flame Research Award recipient is Brian Hill, a second-year student of Carleton University’s Master of Journalism program and former Paralympics swimmer for Canada.
Born with a visual impairment, he credits swimming with helping him to develop a strong sense of empowerment. “Finding swimming at a young age – I was nine when I started – it changed my life,” he said. “It empowered me, it gave me the confidence to pursue other things. When you have a disability, it is amazing when you find something where you’re equal to other people. For the first time in your life, you feel like you’re equal.”
Representing Canada in the Summer Paralympic Games
Brian represented Canada in the Summer Paralympic Games in Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London. Looking for a new challenge, he decided to pursue Journalism at Carleton after hearing positive reviews from a friend in the program. “It’s a great program,” said Brian, who is also head coach of the Carleton swim team. “Being in Ottawa and myself being inclined toward political reporting, it made sense. It was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.”
He discovered the Centennial Flame Research Award while searching online for scholarships. Established in 1991, the award is given each year to a person with a disability to conduct research and prepare a report on the contributions of one or more Canadians with disabilities to Canadian public life or parliamentary activities.
Brian plans to focus his research on the impact that sport has on persons with disabilities. He intends to bring a journalistic eye to the research and tell the story through the eyes of different individuals. His hope is that his research will be used to improve the lives of people with disabilities “Participation in sport is particularly low for people with disabilities,” he noted. “Why? What are the reasons? How can we change that?”
In addition to being Canada’s 150th anniversary, 2017 also marks the 50th anniversary of the Centennial Flame. Installed on Parliament Hill on New Year’s Eve 1967, it was intended to be a temporary one-year exhibit for Canada’s Centennial. But public support has turned it into an iconic Ottawa landmark.
Centennial Flame Research Award funded by fountain donations
Funding for the Centennial Flame Research Award comes from money collected from the flame’s fountain once a week and any other donations. This year’s award amounts to $5,500.
“It’s a more humbling award than others,” said Brian. “This one is special in terms of where the money comes from. [The Centennial Flame] is something that has become a focal point in Ottawa and Canada. The money is literally from people’s wishes, hopes and dreams. It’s unique and incredibly special that the proceeds of these people’s innermost desires and wishes are funding my research and wishes to answer what I see as an important question.”