Our Story

Quilt Launch at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, April 2005
Quilt Launch at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, April 2005

Quilt of Belonging is a collaborative work of art whose mission is to recognize Canada’s diversity, celebrate our common humanity and promote harmony and compassion among people.

Quilt of Belonging was begun in the fall of 1998 by artist Esther Bryan. In 1995 she went on a life-changing journey to Slovakia with her parents to find the family and home her father had left behind 43 years earlier. The dream of making this artwork was born as she recognized that everyone has a story to tell, each culture has a unique beauty and that the experiences and values of our past inform who we are today. In this textile mosaic, each person can experience a sense of belonging and find a place in the overall design – there is “A Place for All”. Together they record human history in textile, illustrating the beauty, complexity and sheer size of the human story.

This monumental artwork, Canada’s most comprehensive textile art project, is the work of volunteers from Victoria to Newfoundland to the Arctic Circle. From across Canada, participants were invited to contribute their talents and ideas, reflected through the prism of their cultural backgrounds. The range of materials is astonishing, from sealskin to African mud-cloth, from embroidered silk to gossamer wings of butterflies. (View Block-by-Block.)

The project has been headquartered first in the tiny village of Williamstown in Eastern Ontario and currently in Lancaster, the neighbouring village. Quilt of Belonging is a non-profit corporation and a registered charity. The project is largely funded by public donations. Organizations, corporations and grant agencies have added their support at various times through the years.

On May 18th, 2000, a special reception featuring the first set of completed pieces was hosted by the Canadian Ethnocultural Council in the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. A section of the Quilt was the special feature at the reception on Parliament Hill on June 27th 2003 to mark the first Canadian Multiculturalism Day.

The inaugural exhibition of the completed Quilt of Belonging took place April 1st, 2005 at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau (Ottawa). Almost 1,000 guests celebrated the occasion at the opening gala event. The Quilt has been on tour since that spring launch. Take a look at Photo Gallery.

Already 1.4 million visitors have seen the Quilt, experiencing its message of inclusion and richness in diversity. This voyage has included a 10-week, multi-venue exhibition trek across the Arctic. Special showings have included an exhibit in 2009 at the Aga Khan Centre in Ottawa, hosted by the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Speaker of the Senate for all MPs, Senators, VIPs and the Diplomatic Corp. The Quilt was a feature of the 2010 Cultural Olympiad for the 2010 Olympic and Para Olympic Games in Vancouver, was chosen for the G20 Summit in Toronto and the 2014 Biennial Commonwealth Conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia. (Click on Tour Dates.)

In 2009, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaël Jean, Governor General of Canada became Quilt of Belonging’s Honourary Patron.
Our companion book, Quilt of Belonging: The Invitation Project is in its fourth printing, and a French version, Fibres du monde: le projet Invitation is also available. Quilt of Belonging: Stitching Together the Stories of a Nation is a children’s book, popular with parents and teachers. A heartwarming 48-minute documentary was produced in 2013 which features interviews with the artist, Esther Bryan and many block makers. (Shop at our Bookstore.)

Units on the project are in school textbooks across Canada in both official languages. This work of art is creating an impact as it is used in a variety of projects and educational programs nationally and around the world. Free educational resources are available at Teaching Resources.

Jan & Alice Gazdik, Esther’s parents, return to Slovakia

Williamstown headquarters for making the Quilt

CEC-Multiculturalism Day
Canadian Ethnocultural Council & Esther at launch of Multiculturalism Day

Quilt arrives in Nain, the first stop on the Arctic Tour
Quilt arrives in Nain, the first stop on the Arctic Tour

School Visit
Students view Quilt in Malaysia