Table 1200

There’s something special about bringing people together around a topic. Gathering people not only creates commonalities and connections, it also inspires action.

Public input is key to the Vital Signs process. One way The Foundation gathered input was by convening a series of public discussions on community priorities.

Between January and June 2017, The Foundation held three Vital Conversations: the first focused on mental health and addictions, the second on steps to reconciliation, and the third on community pride.

While our goal was to gain additional ideas and views, we didn’t realize the extent to which these Vital Conversations would motivate people – to attend, to learn, to connect, to share, and to act.

The results from these first three conversations have inspired The Foundation to further prioritize community engagement and expand our role as a community convenor.

You can read more below about the findings at the three Vital Conversations, including what happened, what we learned, and results from specific surveys developed for each event.

The first Vital Conversation was held Jan. 23. Convened in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association, the event brought together 100 people to focus on the challenges confronting issues of mental health and addictions in our community, and potential paths to healing and well-being.

Global TV journalist Eva Kovacs emceed the event, which began with an opening prayer offered by Elder Dr. Myra Laramee. The keynote address came from musician and motivational speaker Robb Nash, who uses the experience of his own nearly-fatal auto accident, along with the power of music, to positively influence young people confronting addiction, self-harm and suicide.

“When I went through my mental illness, and when I had the suicidal thoughts, I was by myself,” said Nash. “When I see something like this – coming together and making a community aware and bringing together resources – we can make a bigger impact and make things more significant.”

The event also incorporated a panel discussion on mental health and addictions, featuring physician Dr. Lisa Monkman, sociologist Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud and mental health advocate Sean Miller. Attendees also participated in roundtable discussions on a range of mental health-related topics.

“It’s a long haul to get any help,” said participant Raymond Cornish, who works as a chaplain for the RCMP.

With waitlists so long, young kids must routinely wait several months before seeing mental health professionals, and after that there are no next steps, he added.

“It’s like a black hole,” he said.


The two-hour event scratched the surface in understanding how to best approach issues regarding mental health and addictions in our community. Many attending commented on the value of bringing together citizens from various professions and life experiences to learn from one another and discuss best practices. Mental health and addictions are a common struggle. Service providers know connecting with others is often one of the best ways to alleviate some of the struggles that come along with mental health and addictions.


Areas that need the most attention, according to attendees at the Mental Health, Addictions and Healing Vital Conversation:

  • Increasing access to publicly funded therapy and/or rehabilitation services
  • Increasing support for individuals/families coping with mental health crises
  • Developing and delivering earlier and later in life education about mental health and related supports
  • Providing affordable housing and employment training/ opportunities
  • Building awareness around mental health and addictions stigma
  • Ensuring children and young adults have early access to good clinical care


The second Vital Conversation focused on how, as individuals and as a community, we can all work toward reconciliation and improve relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Winnipeggers.

The all-day event, attended by 250 people, was held Apr. 12. It was organized in partnership with Circles for Reconciliation, a recently-created charity that brings together Indigenous and non-Indigenous professionals who facilitate circles of dialogue on a host of topics. From the legacy of residential schools, to the ’60s Scoop, to the Indian Act, to everyday racism and many other difficult subjects, Circles for Reconciliation brings together citizens from all walks of life to sit in circles where they listen, share, learn and heal.

Elder Dr. Myra Laramee introduced the day with a balance of humour and seriousness. The keynote address came from Kevin Lamoureux, National Education Lead of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

A dynamic speaker, Lamoureux captivated the audience by taking a provocative look at the past, challenging the myths of justice and inclusion for Indigenous Canadians. His laid-back style made him easy to understand as he helped clarify the impact on today’s society – both for Indigenous and non- Indigenous citizens.

Inspired by the hope and optimism that reconciliation can be pursued by cultivating better knowledge, understanding and compassion, attendees split into 16 circles spread across conference rooms. Many of the circles inspired impassioned, enlightening and insightful dialogue; for many, it was the first time they had ever discussed these tough issues, and they were doing it with people they had just met. For some non-Indigenous attendees, it was their first time meeting someone Indigenous.

“The event today was ground-breaking,” said attendee Diane Redsky, Executive Director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre. “Bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who have never been together before is such an important first step on this road to reconciliation.”

This initiative is made possible by the Community Fund for Canada’s 150th, a collaboration between The Winnipeg Foundation, the Government of Canada, and extraordinary leaders from coast to coast to coast.

Community Foundations of Canada - Canada 150


The event allowed people to learn about history and lived experiences that many wouldn’t otherwise know. Sharing stories allowed people to connect on a human level. Creating a welcoming, inclusive and empathetic environment allowed for these sometimes-difficult discussions to happen.

“The simple, straightforward nature of our circles, its grassroots approach, and the parity between Indigenous and non- Indigenous participants, are the features that attract people,” said Dr. Raymond Currie who, along with Clayton Sandy, founded Circles for Reconciliation.


Key areas for Foundation grant-making, according to attendees at the Bridging Divides, Shaping Futures Vital Conversation:

    1. Increasing understanding of Indigenous Peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions, residential school experiences, and treaties based on recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
    2. Building awareness and understanding of the impact of inter-generational trauma on Indigenous communities
    3. Supporting youth leadership programs with a focus on the importance of their role in community: role-modeling, cultural identity, advocacy, and mentorship


The third Vital Conversation took place at this year’s Table for 1200 More, an annual pop-up dinner in a surprise location that highlights architecture and design in Winnipeg and supports StorefrontMB. This year’s event was held June 3 and stretched from Portage and Main along Rorie Street to the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

Attendees were invited to fill out a short Vital Signs survey, which was also distributed to several neighbourhood renewal corporations. The process allowed Foundation staff to engage in many interesting conversations.


This Vital Conversation was an opportunity to celebrate our city! We wanted to learn more about people’s connections to Winnipeg: where those connections happen, whether citizens feel safe, what they are proud of, and what they would do to improve this place we all call home.

Wholeheartedly the short survey told us people want to belong – to feel part of a community. Give them a place to be and a common experience, and they’ll foster that sense of community pride. Proud Winnipeggers say they generally feel safe and have multiple connections to their community.



680 respondents completed the Community Pride Vital Conversation survey



The Winnipeg Foundation will host Vital Conversations throughout the year, providing opportunities to continue the discussions on issues Winnipeggers identified as important to them.

Learn more