If you don't live near a school or have kids to drop off, you might miss some pretty important people working to keep your roads safe. But to the students they help daily and the neighbourhoods they impact, Canada's crossing guards are an essential part of their communities.
In 2005, Parachute, a traffic awareness and injury-prevention advocacy group, wanted to acknowledge the difference these neighbourhood pillars make and launched Canada's Favourite Crossing Guard, a contest recognizing their effort and raising awareness about their impact on kids' lives. It ran uninterrupted until 2020, when it was suspended due to COVID. But it roared back in 2022 with a record 368 nominations for 29 crossing guards. Parachute President and CEO Pamela Fuselli says both rural and urban communities across the country really responded. "The schools and communities who submit nominations are really invested. And there may have been some pent-up enthusiasm this year."
This year's contest winners have made a real commitment to their community. They care about the people they help, and they really bring their personality to work. As winners, they will each receive $500 for themselves and their schools.
In Haileybury, in Northeastern Ontario, Thomas Dickerson says the more he engages and interacts with students from École Catholique Ste-Croix, the safer they are. His philosophy on the job comes down to "kindness counts and safety first." He says the best part of being a crossing guard is getting a laugh out of the kids he sees every day. And he's always ready to return the favour—his Gandalf costume this past Halloween was a big hit. When it comes to interacting with motorists, Dickerson says he noticed a much better attitude when he started recognizing and applauding the good behaviour instead of getting annoyed or upset about the bad. Still, there's always room for improvement. His message for drivers is a simple one: "If you can be late, you can be early."
In Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, Quebec, Geneviève Carrière agrees. Now in her seventh year at École secondaire du Harfang, she knows a 30-second stop to let students get to school shouldn't be enough to make drivers upset—or late. A self-described people person, she's worked hard to engage with local motorists and commercial truck drivers passing through town. She credits her effort to establish mutual respect as a key factor in the positive atmosphere at her crossing. She's also very much a part of local routine. Not only can she look at a car and know who is going where, but she also knows the names of the kids she sees every day. Her biggest point of pride though is the overall sense of community she's building between students, parents, local motorists and commercial traffic. "We've all formed a bond. In my 6 years, there has only really been positive interactions."
For Carl Wright, community is exactly why he took a crossing guard job at Hillsdale Elementary school in Hillsdale, Ontario. He loves putting a smile on kids' faces and having a positive impact in their day. He believes in the adage that "every kid is one caring adult away from a success story." A veteran of safety councils from his previous career, Carl also takes the time to study traffic reports and uses a 2-whistle system that goes "above and beyond." The more personal the interaction he has with drivers, the better their attitudes and behaviour. His letters to several trucking companies thanking drivers for slowing down has paid real dividends, as they continue to be respectful and safe. "The regulars are great. There's a lot of respect from a lot of drivers out there."
All 3 winners have a real desire to make a difference in children's lives. But despite their incredible effort, infrastructure also plays a role. Speed bumps and better lights and signage can make a difference for kids and drivers alike. Ultimately though, the winners agree that a sense of shared responsibility is essential from every road user. Traffic laws are meant to be obeyed, but pedestrians, drivers and cyclists still need to ensure they're being safe for themselves and others. Clichés like "keep your eyes on the road," "look both ways," and "slow down" are universal for a reason.
For more information about Canada’s Favourite Crossing Guard Contest, visit Canada’s Favourite Crossing Guard – Parachute.