Tiffany Munro, of Edmonton,, speaks at the Miss Universe Canada session at G.L. Roberts High School in Oshawa.CARLOS OSORIO/TORONTO STAR
Rumblings and muted jeers erupted from the audience at G.L. Roberts Collegiate and Vocational Institute, and a fellow contestant who had just described her experience in a Rwandan refugee camp gasped in shock.
The event Thursday morning was to have been a chance for the pageant’s 62 contestants to practise their public speaking skills. But Munro, for one, learned a hard lesson of a different sort.
“Skeletons,” the Edmonton native said later. “I meant to say they don’t want us to look like skeletons. But I’m still half-asleep after having to get up at 5 a.m.”
Munro, a filmmaker who has her own production company, said she was apologizing to everyone for the gaffe that “just slipped out.”
African-born Solange Tuyishime, 26, spent much of her time onstage being consoled by another contestant.
“I was hurt” by the reference to “stereotypical images they show on TV,” she said in an interview. “It’s very sad that in 2010 when we make references to the poor, we think of African children, because poverty is everywhere.”
But the “beauty” of the pageant, she added graciously, is that it gives them an opportunity “to learn from each other.”
Expanding on her body image theme, Munro told the 300 Grades 11 and 12 students that she struggled with weight issues, at one point ballooning to 180 pounds. “Dancing around on stage in swimsuits” for the competition might seem “archaic,” she noted, but it shows that they have healthy bodies.
Judges in the Miss Universe Canada pageant, which wraps up Saturday and Monday at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, are looking for “someone who has the whole package” of brains and beauty, according to national director Denis Davila.
Most of the 62 contestants, nine of whom are from the Greater Toronto Area, arrived at G. L. Roberts in six-inch stilettos and short skirts. But they quickly wowed the audience with their stories of achievement and messages of hope and inspiration.
“Be proud of who you are. Be proud of your culture,” urged Ashley Callingbull, 20, a Cree woman who said she was representing aboriginal and Canadian women. Stereotypes suggest she should be “a failure, a drunk, a drop-out, on welfare,” she said. “But I’m here promoting a healthy lifestyle. I’m in the best shape of my life.”
One woman spoke passionately about her uncle, a newspaper editor in Yemen who was assassinated for speaking out: “He taught me some things are worth dying for.”
Tuyishime, who said all she was left with in Rwanda was the instinct to survive, urged the students to believe in themselves and get a good education: “Your power is greater than you think. Your dream is what you make it.”
Paisley McNab, 19, went back in time to answer one student’s question about who she’d most like to meet.
“Shakespeare,” she responded. “I love reading and I love Shakespeare. It’s fun to try and figure out what he’s saying.”