Students consider the promotion of Canadian national identity by assessing the success of individual and collective efforts to use symbols, myths, institutions and government initiatives to advance a national identity.
Introduce the power of symbols
Ask students to bring in or simply identify an image or icon that is meaningful to them; e.g., cross, consumer logos, sports team logo. Invite students to explain why the symbol is meaningful and how they feel or what impressions come to mind when they see or hold it. After students have shared their own symbols, discuss, as a class, how they felt about the symbols presented by others. Did any students feel negatively toward some symbols and positively toward others? In the discussion, focus on the power of symbols to unify people for or against a cause.
Develop criteria for powerful national symbols
Invite students to think of the symbols operating at the national level that might draw people together in Canada. Brainstorm a list of common national symbols in Canada; e.g., the national anthem, the flag, the beaver, the maple leaf, the Queen. Ask students to discuss which of these symbols is more powerful and why. You may want to contrast these examples with less contemporary national symbols, e.g., the Canadian Red Ensign, Johnny Canuck, or less distinctive symbols; e.g., the colour red, tall trees. Use this discussion to draw out the following kinds of features that a powerful national symbol will exhibit:
- distinctive—is uniquely associated with Canada
- recognized—is widely known across groups and regions
- attachment—has strong attachments for many people
- long lasting—had been a factor for many years.
Explore the power of symbols
Invite students to consider why some symbols are more powerful than others. For example:
- Why might the Mercedes logo be more powerful than the Toyota logo?
- Why might the national flag be more powerful than the coat of arms?
Provide various examples of contrasting images to help students see the features that make symbols effective, including the following factors:
- widely available
- touches a deep desire or need
- makes people feel special.
Invite students to use these features to explain the relative success of the common national symbols discussed earlier.
Introduce the construct of national symbols
Explain to students that some national symbols may arise accidentally but more often they are deliberately promoted to serve particular purposes. Share with students several samples of posters used to recruit immigrants to Canada in the 19th or 20th centuries or to encourage people to join in the war effort during World War I or World War II. Examine the details of the posters and identify the messages that are promoted; e.g., Canada is a land of opportunity; there are vast lands for everyone.
Investigate efforts to promote national identity
Students take on the role of investigative reporters to look at the ways in which various groups and the government have tried to promote national identity in Canada. Individually or with a partner, students investigate an assigned symbol, myth, institution or government program that has tried to influence Canadian national identity. Encourage students to create or collect (photocopy, Internet sources) pictures for their initiative.
In conducting their research, students should consider the following questions:
- What is the initiative; i.e., symbol, myth, institution or program?
- Who is promoting it?
- When was it promoted and how long did the promotion last?
- Where was it promoted
- Why was it promoted?
- How effective has it been in the short term and in the long term?
Assign initiatives to research
Provide students with a list of symbols, myths, institutions and government programs that have been used to influence Canadian national identity. Arrange for students, individually or in pairs or small groups, to select and research one of these initiatives. See Possible Web Sites for Research (Background Information). You might suggest the following general resources:
- Government of Canada Web sites
- Maclean's magazine issue of July 1, 2006
- Statistics Canada Web site.
flag—maple leaf, fleur-de-lis
coat of arms
commemorative postage stamps
Canada as the "just" society
Canada as a cultural mosaic
Canada as a land of boundless opportunity
Canada as a welcoming home for immigrants
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
CPR and CNR
Royal Family (Governor General)
Cross-Canada youth exchanges
Dominion Institute Canadian history test
Canada: A People's History (television series)
To structure and assess student research, you may want to use the chart and rubric found in Reporter's Log (Support Material)
Evaluate the success of the initiative
Ask students to consider the success of their assigned initiative. Discuss with the class two criteria for making this judgement.
- worthwhile—Was it promoting a worthwhile cause?
- lasting impact—Did it have a positive lasting effect for the country?
Direct students to prepare a short article or a letter to the editor outlining the nature of the identity-building initiative they researched and their assessment of its success. Encourage students to include an image with their report.
Sharing the findings
Arrange for students to explain briefly the nature of the initiative and its assessment. As each students present their conclusions, direct them to locate themselves along a continuum from Highly Desirable to Highly Undesirable. After all the presentations are completed and students are situated along the continuum, ask them to evaluate the successes—not simply of their particular initiative, but of the collective successes of all the efforts. As a class, discuss the successes and implications of historical and contemporary efforts to promote Canadian national identity.
To structure and assess this activity, you may want to refer to the instructions and rubric in
U-shaped Discussion (Support Material).
Offer an overall conclusion
Invite students to prepare a brief policy statement supported with evidence on the successes of collective efforts to promote Canadian national identity.
To structure and assess this task, you may want to adapt one of the charts and rubric in Justifying My Choice (Support Material).