Gimme a Bee! Spelling Bee!

Friday, 02 May 2014 00:00 Written by  Published in NFP/Charities Read 569 times
Julie Spence at a 2012 Spelling Bee event Julie Spence at a 2012 Spelling Bee event
Julie Spence is the founder of the Spelling Bee of Canada. Born in Lucea, Jamaica, she recalls with gusto the days when the villagers gathered around one radio,

and carefully followed the Spelling Bee competition being broadcast. People didn’t necessarily know how to spell the words or even know the words, but they paid close attention, learning and laughing at the same time. It was these recollections that led her to found the Spelling Bee of Canada, now in its 27th year. We caught up with Julie recently to find out more about the Spelling Bee and the Ontario Championship happening May 11th.

Why did you create the organisation?
Back in 1987, I was the Youth Director of the Caribbean Excelsior Fraternal Association. I was constantly looking for ways to engage, encourage and improve the youth. At the time too, the Minister of Education was calling for more parental involvement in the children’s education. I thought back to my days in Jamaica and thought this would be a wonderful and fun activity for everyone.

How has it brought families and communities together?
Parents do get involved. They become coaches, not just for their own children but for other kids as well. Children meet children from other communities and in some cases become lifelong friends. Parents learn about their neighbours and it truly becomes like a village, which is what it takes to raise a child.

Why is the Spelling Bee important?
Words are important. Everything in life is words. They are crucial to your success. We need to position our children so that they have a mastery of language. Even my youngest boy who is still at Western University said recently “Thank you mum for forcing me to be in the Spelling Bee when I didn’t want to. Words are very important.”

The early competition is good for the children too. It fosters confidence, even if they don’t win. They realize they can either accept defeat, or see it as learning and try again. We tell the children that they are already winners, just for participating and having done their best. You see their confidence building as they stay with the program. In their first year they might be timid, but by the second year they’re raring to go!

The tie-breaker round of the Spelling Bee also involves words that are not on the study-lists. Therefore, children have to improve their vocabulary through reading. Their love of words fosters a love of reading. Now we have cheers and excitement instead of groaning when we announce this round!

Can you tell me more about the Ontario Championship happening May 11th?
Yes, it’s taking place at the Eaton Chelsea Hotel in the Mountbatten Salon. The address is 33 Gerrard Street West, Toronto. The opening ceremony starts at 9:30 AM, and the finals in the Primary, Junior and Intermediate age-groups will be taking place.

How can participants register for next year?
Registration for the next round of competition starts in September. Interested persons can visit our website for more information.

Closing thoughts?
Everyone in life has a purpose. It’s really not about you. It’s about how you can help someone, and in turn, help yourself in the process. This is what I think about every day.


Last modified on Friday, 02 May 2014 17:26
Lorraine Harrilal

Lorraine Harrilal is a freelance writer in Montreal. Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, she moved to Ottawa in 2003 to attend Carleton University. She's resided in Canada since. You can read more from her at



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