While Lauren Pederson is spending this week in Toronto representing Ottawa in the Miss World Canada Pageant, the thought of even being in a pageant had never even crossed her mind. The, someone suggested that she enter the Miss Ontario pageant as a way to promote a cause she is passionate about.
Pederson, the daughter of local resident Shawn Pederson, is using the contest to raise awareness and advocate for additions to the mental health care industry in Canada.
Currently a Bachelor of Social Work student at the University of Victoria, Pederson graduated from St. Lawrence College in Kingston in Child Youth Counselling and was a student representative and also on the Dean’s List.
Her eventual goal is to become a psychotherapist.
While in school, Pederson had been doing some modelling, and it was suggested to her that she should enter a pageant.
“I had never done anything like that or even thought of pageants,” she said. “But the more I looked into it, the more I realized that this was a great way for me to be an advocate for mental health.”
The Miss World contest uses the slogan ‘Beauty with a Purpose’. The program started 50 years ago, with the countries involved choosing a project. Each contestant is encouraged to create and execute their own personal project to be presented at the Miss World Canada contest.
“What really got my attention was that there was money available for the charities that you chose,” Pederson said. “If I placed well, then it would help the cause I was working on.”
Pederson developed and facilitated a fundraiser for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. The fund was used to purchase art supplies, gifts, and other items for CHEO’s mental health patients.
One of the main fundraisers was a monthly 80s and 90s Trivia Night, held at the Mill Tavern in Manotick.
“I worked at the Mill Tavern part time while I was finishing my clinical counsellor placement at CHEO,” Pederson said. “It was an absolute pleasure to be part of such a loving team. The Mill Tavern really made what I am doing possible.”
Miss Ontario Pageant
Pederson competed in the Miss Ontario contest earlier this year. She was among more than 50 contestants, and she finished in sixth place.
She said that the experience was enjoyable, even though she felt a little bit like an outsider.
“There were different groups of people,” she said. “There were girls that had grown up doing pageants, and there were other people with dance or acting backgrounds. Then there was me. I didn’t really fit into any of those groups.”
The main part of the pageant for her was to use the experience as a platform to promote her mental health-based project.
“I have worked first hand in CHEO’s inpatient psychiatric ward, Mental Health classrooms, non for profits, and homeless shelters,” she said. “I have seen a great need for much more accessible and affordable forms of therapy.”
By finishing in sixth place at the provincial level, Pederson has earned the title of Miss Ottawa – she was the top finisher from Ottawa and the Eastern Ontario – and she earned a spot in the Miss World Canada finals in November.
She has been very visible in the community, appearing at the Capital Fair and other local events in addition to the Mill Tavern trivia nights.
“My whole reason behind entering pageantry, was to broadcast my mental health based ‘Beauty With a Purpose project,’ The top 5 winners at Miss World Canada get funding for their project. The Mill Tavern empowered me with friendship and sponsorship for my Miss Canada pageant, so I hope to bring as much positive attention as possible to them too.
Last month, she got the opportunity to go to the Bell Media building on York Street in the Byward Market for some interviews. Among the people she met was longtime Barrhaven resident and CTV Ottawa news co-anchor Patricia Boles.
“It was exciting to be interviewed and to meet people and tell them why I am doing this,” she said. “I have met a lot of people on this journey who have really made an impact on my life. Meeting Patricia Boles was really exciting for me. She is someone who is very well respected in the city, and someone I have looked up to for a long time.”
Last week, Pederson did a photo shoot for Faces Magazine. Like everyone else, the photographer asked her how she got involved in the pageant. When she told him, he stopped in his tracks. He, like everyone else she has discussed the Miss World Canada pageant with, has found her answer refreshing.
“I don’t think he expected the answer I gave him, but I just told him exactly why I entered the pageant,” she said.
This week will be busy for Pederson. It began early Monday morning, and each morning will begin at 5 a.m. Pederson said she will enjoy the week and make the most of the opportunity of competing in the pageant. Where she places in the pageant is somewhat irrelevant to her, as it is out of her control and in the hands of the judges. Regardless of how she fares, she still has a year of being Miss Ottawa to look forward to for the next several months.
“I make the most of having the title of being Miss Ottawa for the next year to raise awareness for mental health issues,” she said.