Former Miss New Brunswick recalls her own experience as pageant's future remains unknown

Kristen Culberson won the Miss New Brunswick title in 2019. She loved her experience, but isn't surprised by the lack of applications this year. (Submitted - image credit)
Kristen Culberson won the Miss New Brunswick title in 2019. She loved her experience, but isn't surprised by the lack of applications this year. (Submitted - image credit)

Kristen Culberson remembers a lot about the three-day event five years ago that made her Miss New Brunswick 2019.

She recalls the stress, the fun and the amazing friendships she made along the way — ultimately culminating in her winning the crown.

Foro Culberson, the pageant was a positive experience, but she was not surprised to hear the annual event was cancelled because of a lack of interest.

"Interest in pageants has definitely waned over the years," she said.

"I think that's kind of around the changing climate and the changing social structure and kind of the idea of what pageants are."

Not enough applicants

Earlier this month, the Miss New Brunswick Pageant posted on Facebook to say the event would be cancelled.

There just weren't enough applications for what has traditionally been an important part of Old Home Week in Woodstock, drawing competitors who'd won pageants in other communities.

A month before that announcement, the page made a post changing the application criteria to allow non-titleholders to apply for entry in the pageant and go through an interview process.

But according to event co-ordinator Twyla Rogers, changing the criteria didn't help draw more applicants. Only a few days before the deadline, there were five potential competitors and zero registrations.

"I just think times are changing, I hate to say it," said Rogers, who only took on the organizer role last year.

Heaven Solomon, Miss New Brunswick 2022, crowns Alexa Drapeau as Miss New Brunswick 2023 during last year's pageant.
Heaven Solomon, Miss New Brunswick 2022, crowns Alexa Drapeau as Miss New Brunswick 2023 during last year's pageant.

Heaven Solomon, Miss New Brunswick 2022, crowns Alexa Drapeau as Miss New Brunswick 2023 during last year's pageant. (Mikayla Longstaff/Submitted by Twyla Rogers)

"What I learned last year, actually, is that these girls are very talented, they are intelligent, they're role models for the young girls. But I think the stereotypical pageant contestant [view] is still there."

She also said that COVID-19 had an impact on the pageant industry, as did municipal amalgamations. For example, she said there would normally be titleholders from Chipman and Minto, but that changed to just one for Grand Lake.

The Miss New Brunswick pageant posted on Facebook earlier this month to announce the 2024 event would be cancelled. The first winner was crowned in 1955.
The Miss New Brunswick pageant posted on Facebook earlier this month to announce the 2024 event would be cancelled. The first winner was crowned in 1955.

The Miss New Brunswick pageant posted on Facebook earlier this month to announce the 2024 event would be cancelled. The first winner was crowned in 1955. (The Miss New Brunswick Pageant/Facebook)

According to the Old Home Week website, the first Miss New Brunswick crown was awarded in 1955 to 18-year-old Marion Corey — later known as Marion Kirkpatrick. In her obituary last year, being the first Miss New Brunswick was on the list of things Kirkpatarick was remembered for, as well as her being a humanitarian, cancer survivor and nurse.

Meghan Clark, a Fredericton resident who saw her sisters compete in pageants, said she thinks the lack of applications indicates the members of the young generation today are more gender diverse and more thoughtful about what they participate in.

"[Pageants are] very binary," Clark said. "It's … about a certain kind of femininity."

Clark said she thinks there are already things that exist for young women, including writing competitions, talent shows and volunteer opportunities, that don't hinge on beauty.

She said she doesn't see a future where pageants could completely change for the better.

"They've tried to be more inclusive, and they tried to show different talents and … it's still always going to be a beauty pageant," she said.

Culberson said points are awarded for casual wear and evening wear, but the interview and talent portions are also big.

Changing the mindset

Culberson, a University of New Brunswick engineering student, remembers being given the chance to hold STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics  sessions for girls in grades three to six as Miss New Brunswick.

She said she doesn't know if she would have had the same opportunities or platform without the pageant.

Still, she sees the opportunity for changes to be made so prospective applicants can better understand the expectations in a pageant.

"Looking at the history of this pageant, it has existed since the '50s, and there is so much tradition behind it that we also have to allow and understand that the perfect idea of a woman has changed drastically," said Culberson.

"It does look to be so much based on appearance and beauty and class, and that's not necessarily what we're concerned about now, and so I definitely think there are aspects that need to be changed.

"Hopefully we're well on our way to making those changes."

Rogers said that going forward, she doesn't know what will happen with the New Brunswick pageant, but the organizers will need to think it over.

She said she has thought about trying to better inform people about the true nature of the pageant, but she doesn't know if it would change anything.

"It's really hard because a pageant is a pageant," she said.

"You have girls come out on stage, you have them in their pretty gowns. Of course, you know it's all sparkly and it's pretty and it's glamorous, but they don't see what we see behind the scenes.

"This is not about beauty, it's about role models and community service, like what they do in their communities, and that they love their towns, and they love where they're from … and I don't know how we can change that mindset."