Caledon Enterprise: Caledon native behind unique VIA Rail podcast series

Caledon native Brittany Spencer started off her journalism career on the right track — the VIA Rail track that is.

Fresh out of grad school with a Master’s in Journalism from Ryerson University under her belt, the longtime Inglewood resident jumped straight into what she calls an eye opening experience as the senior producer for a project called Challenge for Change Conversations.

The project was unique — Spencer and five other journalism students spent the summer of 2017 travelling across Canada by train recording candid conversations between hundreds of passengers. It was a project funded by a national, not-for-profit research and training organization called Mitacs, in partnership with VIA Rail, the National Film Board of Canada and Discourse Media.

Whether they were chatting with friends or perfect strangers, the goal was to develop a one-of-a-kind compilation of raw, honest dialogue on topics ranging from love, growing pains, fear and belonging, to what it means to be Canadian.

The stories were recorded, organized and packaged into a 10-episode podcast series available to VIA Rail passengers to listen to on their travels.

The six journalists travelled in pairs, taking shifts and different trips throughout the summer.

Spencer travelled from Toronto to Halifax, back to Toronto, then west to Vancouver and then another to Edmonton.

“The entire experience was pretty awesome to say the least,” she said. “One of the biggest and most pleasant surprises though was just how willing people were to open up and share parts of their lives and stories with not just us but with each other.”

While she heard many amazing stories, the one that stuck out in her mind the most was a conversation with three women named Linda, Nancy and Pearl.

“Linda and Nancy were best friends for 60 years and Pearl was Linda’s mother,” she explained. “They talked about things like love and how things like gender roles have changed throughout their lifetimes.”

She learned a few weeks later from Linda that her friend had passed away. “So I sent her the recording of the entire conversation and the photos we had taken,” Spencer said. “She was grateful and explained that while some people have the voice on an answering machine, we
have this entire conversation to remember her by.” And that was just one of many that touched Spencer throughout her time working on the project. While she has since moved on to work as a CBC reporter in Charlottetown, she says it was an experience she will never forget.

“It’s extremely satisfying to have captured this collection of incredible conversations and know that they have the potential to impact other peoples’ lives,” she said. “We hope listeners will be encouraged to keep conversations going, and maybe even launch discussionsof their own.”

By: Danielle Marr