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Great Historical Canadians

  • As a public relations officer, make a convincing case for your assigned character's claim to historical greatness.
  • Analyze and rank order the contributions of various early Canadian historical figures to determine their importance for the French and British colonists and various Aboriginal peoples.

Outcomes References Related Resources

Suggested Activities

In this challenge, which may serve as a culminating task for the inquiry, students extend their understanding of historical events as they explore the contributions of various historical figures on the development of pre-Confederation Canada. Students will assume the role of a public relations officer to convince class members that their assigned character greatly contributed to early Canadian history. Then, students will rank the contributions of various early Canadian historical figures in order of their importance for the French and British colonists and various Aboriginal peoples.

Activity 1
Suggest that people from various cultural groups made important contributions to early (pre-1750) Canadian history. Note that prior to Confederation, Canada was not yet a country. Discuss how conclusions about greatness may depend upon the perspectives from which these individuals are viewed. Assign each student to research a historical figure, ensuring a balance of gender and cross-cultural representation, including First Nations people, where possible. You may want to draw from and add to the list found in Key Figures Prior to 1750 (Background Information).

Direct students to record important background information about the person, including his or her full name, date and place of birth and death, nationality, occupations and physical description. More importantly, have students look for evidence of greatness–qualities or contributions that are noteworthy. As a class, agree upon key criteria to determine greatness, such as:

  • impressive personal qualities, including courage, wisdom, cooperativeness, perseverance and honesty
  • major obstacles overcome, such as physical, emotional or spiritual
  • significant accomplishments, such as acts of bravery, peace keeping or intercultural relations •  impact (direct and indirect) on Aboriginal, British and French well-being.

Once students have collected their facts, ask them to infer how others might have reacted to their character and his or her struggles and accomplishments or contributions. Consider adapting the character profile chart in Collecting Information (Support Material) to structure and assess student research.

Activity 2
Explain to students that their next task is to assume the role of a public relations officer who has been hired by his or her clients to persuade others they should be recognized as great early Canadians.

Suggest the following criteria for a persuasive presentation:

  • believable account
  • accurate portrayal of accomplishments/influence
  • consideration to the audience's perspectives
  • ability to stay in character.

Encourage students to focus on the criteria as they prepare to represent their assigned figure. Remind students that consideration of their clients' qualities and contributions will also be based on Aboriginal, British and French perspectives.

Activity 3
Arrange for three students to present and promote their historical figure to the rest of the class. Assign the students to three groups: Aboriginal, British and French. The task of the audience is to rate the greatness of each of the three historical figures, based on its assigned perspective. Since the alliances varied among different Aboriginal populations, it is important to assign a specific First Nations society to the class; e.g., Mi'kmaq, Haudenosaunee (Iriquois), Ashinabe (Ojibwa). Audience members should consider how their assigned group might judge the impressiveness of each character's personal qualities, obstacles, accomplishments and impact. Each group must select one of the three historical figures as the greatest, from its assigned perspective. Consider adapting one of the charts and strategies in Rating Options (Support Material) to structure and assess this activity.

Repeat the procedure until all of the historical figures have been represented and each audience group has short-listed approximately 10 historical figures (based on a class of 30 students).

Activity 4
Ask students assigned to each of the three groups–Aboriginal, British and French–to rank the top four or five greatest figures, based on their understanding of their group's points of view. Direct students to rank the finalists, according to how effectively the people's actions promoted the well-being and protected the interests of the assigned group. Consider adapting one of the charts in Ranking Options (Support Material) to help students justify their conclusions.

As a class, discuss the similarities and differences in each group's list of great early Canadians. Discuss how our views of history change, depending upon the circumstances and experiences that shape our perspectives.

Adapted from Early Contact and Settlement in New France, edited by Ruth Sandwell, Catriona Misfeldt and Roland Case. Richmond, BC: The Critical Thinking Consortium, 2002, pp. 131–162 (ISBN 0–86491–147–5).

Last updated: July 1, 2014 | (Revision History)
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