Spelling Bee of Canada celebrates 30 years next month

Spelling Bee of Canada celebrates 30 years next month

If you long for the days before spell-check, take h-e-a-r-t. The Spelling Bee of Canada is celebrating its 30th anniversary next month.

About 3000 students between the ages of 6 and 14 took part in regional competitions across Canada. And on May 7th, about 130 regional winners will compete in the national championships in Toronto.

"We leave certain words at the door like 'I can't'", founder Julie Spence told CBC Toronto. 

Spence began the competition in 1987. Back then, it was just students from Toronto schools who took part.

Now, competitors come from Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. And the competition recently expanded to include a French spelling bee.

"The most important thing we have to do as a community is that we really need to support and encourage our children." says Spence. "It's a whole community that it's going to take and that's who we are. We're here for every child and it doesn't matter who you are or where you're from."

Students prepare by learning thousands of words

Prabhgun Suri is a two-time spelling bee champion. He was just 8-years-old when he first won in 2015. He won again in 2016.

Suri has learned about 10-thousand new words preparing for the competition. His parents entered him in the spelling bee as a way to bring the shy 11-year-old out of his shell.

"I was very nervous so they wanted me to get over my stage fright and anxiety so they wanted to enroll me in a competition so they found this one," says Suri.

It's about more than spelling

Suzette Thompson is one of the spelling bee's earliest winners. She won the competition in 1988 at the age of 9.

"It really helped me with my esteem and my confidence, " says Thompson.

I come from a family,  there's eight of us. So I'm one of eight and it's very easy to get lost in the voices of eight children right? And so this was like my thing...and it really kind of helped me grow in my confidence."

She was so confident after her win, that she wrote a letter to then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in both official languages.  She and other winners were invited to Parliament Hill where Thompson got to meet Mulroney.

"It was life changing.  Like how many children can say that at my age they had the opportunity to do that and it was just really the beginning for me so that opened a lot of doors and you know, it was a great opportunity that I wouldn't have had had I not won the spelling bee."

Today, Thompson is a pastor at Richmond Hill Pentecostal Church.

Life has also changed for Suri. His success in the Spelling Bee has encouraged his fellow students at the Khalsa School Malton to join the competition.  "Before I never used to talk to anybody.  I would just sit in the corner but after spelling bee I talk to people more. I'm more confident."

That might have something to do with the philosophy that Julie Spence has been using for the past 30 years.

"One of the things that I tell every child that comes through the door is that they're already a winner because only winners participate.  Because you showed up and you participated and that's our definition of a winner."