Students learn from Canadian musician and upstander Sarah Harmer

At the Museum, students learn about numerous upstanders—people who use their strengths to take a stand for what they care about and make a difference.

And recently, 200 students had the opportunity to learn from one such upstander in person.

On April 5, Canadian singer, songwriter and activist Sarah Harmer visited the Museum to inspire a crowd of middle-school students by performing and sharing about her experiences. This special event for students took place earlier in the day before her highly anticipated concert at the Museum in the evening.

One of the songs Harmer performed for the students, “Escarpment Blues,” tells of her efforts to protect the Niagara Escarpment in her hometown from proposed gravel extraction.

“They wanted to blow the top off this big cliff face to get underneath all these woods and wetlands and endangered species’ habitats so that they could get gravel,” explained Harmer. “We thought it was a terrible idea.”

As Harmer told her story, she shared that at first she didn’t know how she could make a difference. But she found strength by connecting with others and was successful in using her voice and talents to draw attention to the issue.

She encouraged the students in attendance to find what they are passionate about, even if they’re not sure where to start. “If you want to do something, just stick with it. Get together with friends and figure it out day by day,” said Harmer.

Harmer’s story of advocacy is featured in the Museum’s exhibition, Beyond the Beat: Music of Resistance and Change. Students at the event also had the opportunity to explore the exhibition to learn more about how Harmer and other upstanders have used their music to advocate for change.

After the performance, students also had the chance to ask Harmer questions about her music and what it’s like to be an upstander. The dozens of questions from the eager students covered everything from “what is your favourite song to play?” to “when did you first notice injustice around you?”

Among those asking questions were Matt Reimer’s students. After the event, the teacher shared how his students have been learning about upstanders like Harmer in the classroom using free resources provided by the Museum.

“They connect well with the idea of being an upstander. To see somebody doing that—and being effective and popular the way that Sarah Harmer is—I think that inspired them,” said Reimer.

“They learned that there is an opportunity to change things and work against the injustices that they see. As [Sarah Harmer] said, music isn’t just entertainment, it can be activism as well.”