The halls of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre are typically filled with people wearing name tags, lanyards and khaki, but on Saturday night, in a theatre hidden in the lower levels, an entirely different group was gathered. The audience of more than 300 people seated in the John Bassett Theatre was dotted with the occasional crown, sash or homemade sign—and buzzing with anticipation. Everyone here wanted to know one thing: who would be this year’s Miss World Canada?
Miss World Canada is one of the oldest running pageants, first starting in 1957, and is used to select Canada’s representative for the Miss World competition, which will take place this November in China. Fifty seven women from across Canada competed in all of the categories you once saw in Miss Congeniality—and a few more like physical fitness and social media presence—and on Saturday night, 17-year-old Cynthia Menard was crowned the winner.
“What I want to achieve with this title is to help with charities in Canada and to volunteer at many places,” Menard told FLARE. “I would also like to be a good role model for the youth and represent Canada in a good way.”
In addition to the glitz and glory, Menard’s new title comes with more than $20,000 in cash and prizes, plus a year of travelling the world for appearances—but according to her predecessor, the job requires much more than smiling and waving.
Anastasia Lin, the winner of Miss World Canada in 2015, says the weight of that crown is considerable. Lin made headlines throughout her reign because of her activism for Falun Gong practitioners, a group that alleges it has suffered human rights violations and persecution at the hands of the Chinese government.
“These people don’t have a voice, I wanted to lend them mine,” says Lin, whose family is originally from China.
Because of her stance, the Miss World Canada winner was barred from competition in the 2015 Miss World competition, which was held in China. She eventually competed in the 2016 competition held in Washington, D.C., but this year she was not invited to attend Miss World Canada and pass on her crown to Menard. Organizers told The Globe and Mail this was simply for logistical reasons because the pageant is under new direction.
If she had been in attendance, Lin says that she would have told Menard that the crown is more than a title, it’s an opportunity.
“Winning and becoming Miss World Canada is not just an honour and a trophy, it is a responsibility,” says Lin, 27. “It is a powerful platform that can be used to shine light on important issues and try to make the world a better place.”
Menard hopes to use the title to encourage other women to believe in themselves, something that she has not always found easy to do.
“Since I was one of the ‘pretty girls’ people would always pick on me and start rumours to bring me down,” says the high school student who will be going into grade 12 in the fall.
Unfortunately, there were elements of that experience in the pageant world as well.
“Most of the girls were really nice; everyone was talking to each other and they were encouraging each other through the shows… but it’s after the competition is done that people start to get jealous and less nice,” says Menard, explaining that some contestants were upset that a teen took home the title.
But the backlash wasn’t the toughest part of the pageant for Menard, instead, it was the footwear. This competition was Menard’s first-ever pageant, and as a result, her first time walking in heels was only two weeks prior to the main event. All of the women competing for the crown wore uniform heels. However, Menard is flat-footed and typically wears footwear with more support, so walking in the shoes of a beauty pageant contestant was not a comfortable experience.
“My feet were hurting a lot,” she says.
Though this may have been her first pageant, Menard is now the latest addition to a long list of women who have held this title before her.
“It’s a lineage of women with strong hearts and who want to do something good for the world,” says Lin. “Because Miss World Canada represents beauty with a purpose, it is about bringing light to the world through beauty and kindness, but also truth. It is an amazing opportunity for a young girl to make a positive difference in this difficult world and to inspire others.”