Little Mosque on the Prairie creator Zarqa Nawaz in town

North Bay’s Yes Employment Services held its third annual DAWN Summit yesterday, with a very special guest – Zarqa Nawaz, the creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie – who delivered a keynote speech.

DAWN stands for Diversity at Work Nipissing, and the one-day summit’s theme this year was Bridging Communities.

“Every year we bring back an event for the community that helps us open up discussion about belonging and acceptance,” noted Leeanne Maille, Yes Employment’s CEO. The organization does much to help newcomers to the city hone their skills and connect them with potential employers. Yes Employment also works with businesses to help fill gaps in their workforce.

See: Yes Employment never stops adapting to help people find success

“There is so much richness, so much beauty in how culturally we’re becoming more diverse,” Maille said. “And it’s really important for us to be open to have conversations about it,” she added. “We can learn to understand the dynamics of multiculturalism” through events like this.

About 150 people filed into the large ballroom at North Bay’s Best Western on Lakeshore to join that conversation, many of whom were excited to hear from the quest speaker. “We’re so lucky to have her,” Maille enthused, “she really is an incredible talent, and we’re so fortunate to have her here.”

Indeed, Zarqa Nawaz helped to change the face of television when her show Little Mosque on the Prairie hit the airwaves on CBC. The show ran for seven seasons and was the network’s highest-rated show. When released in 2007, the series was revolutionary, a sitcom about a Muslim community living in a small Saskatchewan town. It’s been syndicated in many countries, and the audience remains strong.

When it premiered to such high numbers, Nawaz recalled that American producers took note that “a show with non-white leads could become a commercial hit.” Little Mosque on the Prairie opened a lot of minds and created room for more diverse stories and characters to be made visible to television audiences.

“I started to realize that all the shows were starting to change,” said Nawaz, after the show became a hit.

The show helped to bridge communities, and Nawaz continues to write for television, and she’s planning to produce a movie in the near future.

North Bay Mayor Peter Chirico, who hasn’t missed a DAWN Summit yet, emphasized how the City “is committed to fostering an environment where individuals from all walks of life feel valued and respected.”

“As mayor, I’m immensely proud of the strides that we have made as a community in becoming a more inclusive and welcoming community.”

Yes Employment continues to help newcomers adjust to the city and find work throughout the year. It’s not just a one-day event, although the DAWN Summit does provide the opportunity to celebrate diversity and help spread the word about its services.

“I always love to speak at organizations like these because I know how important they are and how much I would have valued organizations like this growing up,” Nawaz said. She came to Canada with her family in the 1970s, “and I wish groups like this had existed for me then, because they didn’t, and it was a really difficult and challenging process.”

For more information on available services, visit the Yes Employment Services website.

David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,