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Historical Perspectives of National Identity

Determine the degree to which various Canadian historical figures supported or resisted development of a Canadian national identity in order to create a memorial on a historical figure's effect on Canadian national identity.

Outcomes References Related Resources

Suggested Activities

Students examine contrasting historical visions of national identity by assessing the degree to which various historical figures supported or resisted development of a Canadian national identity.

Assemble background information
Provide students with links to Web sites containing biographical information on matched pairs of historical figures or ask students to search for digital sources. See Possible Web Sites for Historical Figures (Background Information). The following pairs highlight contrasting views and visions on Canada as a nation:

  • Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin
  • John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier
  • Louis Riel and Thomas Scott
  • Catharine Parr Traill and Gabrielle Roy
  • Emily Pauline Johnson and Michaëlle Jean
  • Clifford Sifton and Frank Oliver
  • Henri Bourassa and Wilfrid Laurier
  • Brian Mulroney and Lester B. Pearson
  • Chief Pitikwahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker) and Colonel William Dillon Otter
  • Samuel Benfield Steele and Chief Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear)
  • Ovide Mercredi and Tommy Douglas
  • René Lévesque and Pierre Elliott Trudeau
  • Nellie McClung and William Robson
  • Yip Sang and William Cornelius Van Horne.

Complete profile of historical figure
Assign students to work with a partner to research a pair of historical figures. Each student within the pair should complete a profile of one of the two historical figures addressing the following questions:

  • Who was the person? (general background and role in shaping/resisting a national identity)
  • Where is the person from? (in Canada and, if applicable, before coming to Canada)
  • When did the person play a role? (dates and concurrent important events)
  • What were the person's driving beliefs?

In addition, ask students to look for direct or indirect evidence of the person's core beliefs about Canada. Direct students to offer their conclusions or inferences about these beliefs and to provide supporting evidence.

To structure this task, you may want to adapt the Character Profile chart found in Collecting Information (Support Material).

For more detailed instruction and strategies on accessing credible digital source information, see Assessing Web Site Credibility (Modelling the Tools).

To meet diverse learning needs, consider reducing the number of selections or focus students' research by providing a selection of print resources or appropriate Web sites (see References).

Draw conclusions about impact of the figure
Invite each student to use the information gathered to determine how the historical figure might have contributed to the development of a Canadian national identity or how he or she might have resisted or challenged it. Encourage students to provide several pieces of evidence that might suggest each possibility before deciding to place the individual on a scale from "Definitely supported developing a Canadian national identity" to "Definitely resisted developing a Canadian national identity."

To structure this task, you may want to adapt the chart My Position on the Issue found in Justifying My Choice (Support Material).

Share results with others
Invite each pair to join another team to share the profiles and conclusions about their historical figures' support or resistance to a Canadian national identity. Ask students to identify the historical figure whose vision of a Canadian national identity is closest to their own.

Present conclusions
Direct students to arrange themselves to represent their historical figure's position on a continuum from support to resistance. Students must decide whether their figure supported or resisted a Canadian national identity in order to position the figure among the others on the continuum. No two students can be on the same spot. They must discuss among themselves which of their historical figures was more or less supportive. Allow time for students to engage in this useful conversation. Reassure students that there is no correct spot on the continuum where the historical figures must be, but they are looking to make an informed judgement about the most plausible position given what is known about the character. After each student is positioned along the continuum, ask students to explain the reasons for their figure's placement by completing the following statement: "The historical figure that I looked at belongs here because …  ."
Compare with contemporary visions
Arrange for students to compare their historical figure's perspective and vision of Canada as a nation with a contemporary narrative on Canadian national identity. You may want to use appropriate excerpts from these sources or other sources of contemporary visions of Canada: Will Ferguson's Why I Hate Canadians, Will Ferguson's and Ian Ferguson's How to Be a Canadian: Even If You Already Are One or Daniel Francis' National Dreams: Myth, Memory, and Canadian History.

Prepare memorial on legacy of the historical figure
Suggest that students write a present-day memorial for the historical figure reflecting his or her legacy in regard to Canadian national identity. Prior to writing, discuss with students the criteria for a meaningful memorial:

  • accurate
  • tactful
  • comprehensive
  • convincing.

To help students understand what is required of them, provide a sample memorial from Lives Lived, which is a regular feature in the Globe and Mail (see References), or a similar column from a local newspaper. Arrange for students to present their memorials to the class.

Last updated: May 30, 2008 | (Revision History)
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