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Canada Year Book Historical Collection, 1867-1967

Use historical data, consolidate learning, think critically.

We know that many students respond favourably in history and social studies classes, when teachers use “stories” to help connect the past and the present. Our challenge when developing the lessons to accompany the Canada Year Book Historical Collection was to find some “stories” to connect the many statistical tables, beginning with 1871, with students in classrooms today. A series of general themes was chosen: lives of men and women, economic gains, Great Depression, and so on. How could we provide engaging lessons to enable teachers and students to use the historical statistics focused on the themes? Where were the farmers and beauticians and shopkeepers and soldiers among the many tables? And how could we encourage students and teachers to be engaged in “active learning” with a focus on critical thinking, given there are so many statistical tables? We think we struck a balance, and invite interested teachers to take a look at these lessons as examples:

  • Great Depression, Secondary lesson. Here students meet families from Toronto or Montreal or the fields of Saskatchewan, all with financial concerns stemming from the Depression. Students must find income and expenses data and develop a realistic family budget, using the Canada Year Book (CYB).
  • Occupations, Intermediate lesson. Students meet 20 workers from a variety of occupations, and use census data from the 1890s to 1940s to note occupational trends for clerks or forestry workers, and many others. Then they role play job counseling to these 20 workers.

For most lessons, students work in cooperative small groups, using online resources to find out about everyday issues that affected Canadians one hundred years ago, and persist today: employment opportunities, cost of living, wages, urbanization, and so on. The lessons can be used as is and also provide scope for individual teachers to adapt to fit their curricula, students and specific locations. “Find out what the trend is for your community” is a frequent prompt in the lesson plans. Students work with historical data that was previously the preserve of academics, using primary sources while sitting comfortably in their own classrooms. “Hands-on historical statistics” sounds odd – we think these lessons will make this kind of learning possible.

Ellie Deir, Carol White and Gord Sly,
Author team, teacher tool box, Kingston, Ontario