2023 Stardust Festival Coming to Timmins and Mattagami First Nations

University of Toronto rocketry team. Image credit: Stardust Festival.

The 2023 Stardust Festival is coming on August 26th, running through to September 1. After last year’s success, this year’s festival promises to be a significant expansion with a new location and a renewed focus on connecting Ontario’s North, indigenous communities, and aerospace-focused STEM.

The Stardust Festival is run by the Stardust Alliance, which is a non-profit formed by Jason Michaud and a number of other partners in the space industry, as well as universities and First Nations groups. The goal of the Festival (and the Alliance) is to connect Northern and Indigenous youth with the STEM field, and features people in the space sector telling their stories, activities for youth, as well as the Launch Canada Challenge.

There’s been a number of changes for this year, however, to both make the experience more enjoyable and accommodate the growing interest. In an interview with SpaceQ, Michaud elaborated.

“The Stardust Festival brings the aerospace industry and defence, so that indigenous youth are able to learn about opportunities and are able to participate in activities run by our partners at the Canadian Space Agency, MDA, Lockheed Martin, in Launch Canada, and several other entities.” 

He said that a lot of students in these remote communities have trouble feeling connected with these kinds of organizations, located far away in different parts of the country, and so Stardust has been “working diligently to focus on outreach in indigenous communities that don’t have the opportunity to have the Canadian Space Agency or other organizations come to them.” 

The Festival is broadly split into several main types of activities. First, there will be hands-on discovery activities for youth at the “Stardust Discovery Space” at Collège Boréal. It will let them explore everything from stratospheric balloons to rocket design to rover races. Michaud said that it was “designed to ignite the passion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, thus inspiring and shaping the aspirations of future generations.” 

Second, there will be social and career-building events: including an exhibition “where attendees can freely explore the rocketry and rover project displays,” a social “Yuri’s Night” celebrating the first astronaut that features a costume component, a gala, and (new to this year) a career fair which, Michaud said, is “aimed at fostering opportunities for college and university students with a keen interest in pursuing aerospace, defence, or mining careers,” which will have representatives from MDA, Lockheed Martin, Blue Origin, Aerojet Rocketdyne and others.  

As Canadian student rocketry groups have proven to be a key recruiting target for both Canadian and international space companies, quite a few careers could start at that fair.

Michaud said that while the career fair and industry recruitment elements may be more oriented towards the rocketry teams, being exposed to this will be enormously beneficial to the high school students. These students will see the process by which students are recruited by these companies, begin to understand how they could end up in the same place, and perhaps get a head start on their own careers in STEM. They may even make fruitful connections of their own.

There will also be an Indigenous celebration hosted by Mattagami First Nations, which Michaud said was part of “an even bigger emphasis on the cultural awareness of indigenous celebrations.” He believes that rocketry companies and space-focused organizations will, increasingly, need to understand different cultures, and that it’s far better for industry leaders to “hear it straight from the community,” including both from indigenous community leaders and from indigenous students, instead of just hearing it from politicians. Their new Space Center at Mattagami FN, which will be hosting the Launch Canada student rocketry events, is also “culturally focused to provide cultural awareness” to visiting industry members and rocketry teams.

In that vein, Stardust also has a large focus on speakers and storytelling. Michaud has speakers coming in from a variety of organizations in both the private and public sector, and is encouraging them to speak not just on their careers, but on their challenges and struggles. Michaud said that storytelling is “one of the best ways that people have used to share their experience for generations in our communities,” and that storytelling will not only help people understand cultural differences, but also raise awareness of shared challenges. He said that students in these communities will benefit from hearing how “they’re not just people that are put on a podium [that enjoy]…overnight success,” but have had to work on mental resilience and have persevered through their own struggles. 

After the weekend’s Festival events are done, the Launch Canada rocketry challenge will start, running through to the end of August. That split is new to this year, and was made for a number of different reasons. Partially, it’s simply to relieve staffing issues; while Mattagami AKI L.P. (Mattagami’s economic development corporation) will be helping with events at the Space Center, splitting up the events will give event organizers and staff more room to work and lead to less burnout. 

More than that though, Michaud said that it was to the benefit of the students. The college and university rocketry teams will have more time to do last-minute onsite preparations and fixes for their rockets, (presumably) with the assistance of Adam Trumpour and his Launch Canada team. They’ll also have more time to interact with the high-school-aged students, telling their own stories of how they got into STEM, as well as talking with industry representatives and (possibly) lining up their next career move. 

Michaud said that the launch site will also be improved, and that “meticulous attention has been given to enhancing the overall infrastructure of the Stardust Space Centre,” including more viewing areas and a specially designated VIP section. 

In terms of the move to Timmins/Mattagami from Cochrane, Michaud said it was simply a case of scale. While Michaud lives in Cochrane and considers the Cochrane event last year to be a big success, the sheer number of students coming for Launch Canada meant that the move was necessary. He said that “close to a thousand students are participating this year,” from over twenty teams, and that Cochrane simply doesn’t have the hotel space to accommodate them. Catering was also an issue; Stardust found themselves having to handle a lot of the catering last year, due to the size of the event, and Timmins is better equipped to handle the demand. 

He said that the City of Timmins has been very supportive of Stardust, having “exhibited exceptional hospitality and an unwavering commitment to our team’s endeavours,” as have the Timmins Economic Development Corporation. He also pointed to the Muskegowuk Council, Wabun Tribal Council, Six Nations of the Grand River, Lower Sioux Tribe, and Nishnawbe Aski Nation.

To find out more about the schedule and agenda, or to get tickets, check out their EventBrite. Michaud said that they would also be streaming the event for those who can’t make it to Timmins, and would be sharing more about that on their channels soon.

About Craig Bamford

Craig started writing for SpaceQ in 2017 as their space culture reporter, shifting to Canadian business and startup reporting in 2019. He is a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists, and has a Master's Degree in International Security from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. He lives in Toronto.

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