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It's another back-to-school season with new students just waiting to be engaged by the study of our past. Primary sources are not only key to studying history, but they can be great hooks for the start of any lesson.

Here's a roundup of some of the best sources in Canada for online primary sources.

Library and Archives Canada. Our national archives is a great place to find images, documents, art, and maps online. Searching for items can be a bit tricky, simply because of the sheer amount of material in the collections, but a few key pieces of information should yield good results. Enter your search terms, select the time of material you are looking for, and make sure you select "yes" if you only want results that are available online. I find the date fields are generally unhelpful — you're better off to leave that blank and then you can filter by date on the results page.


Canadiana.org. This independent, registered charity has partnered with libraries, museums, and archives to help bring our documentary heritage online. Early Canadiana Online is a database of published material spanning the 1600s to the 1940s, while the Canadiana Discovery Portal gives you access to the digital collections from over 40 different organizations across Canada. Try the "random document" feature!


Google News. This one's not as well-known. Google has a rich archive of historic newspapers that you can browse by name and date. Even better - the newspapers are super high res and you can read most of them pretty easily on your computer. I discovered this when I was blogging about the War of 1812 and I was able to read about the events through the Montreal Herald. Check out the full list of newspapers.


CBC Digital Archives. When you get into post-war history, television becomes a new type of primary source. The CBC Digital Archives captures all the iconic moments, interviews, and events from the more recent past.


Begbie Contest Society. This group of BC teachers came together in 1993 to create a contest designed to challenge student's critical thinking skills. Although the contest is no longer running, the website is still being maintained and boasts a wonderful collection of political cartoons. The cartoons are grouped by theme, making it easy to find something that fits with your lesson.

Posted: 11/09/2014 9:01:23 PM by JOANNA DAWSON | with 0 comments

In the April/May issue of Canada’s History, historian Sharon Anne Cook looks at 20th century tobacco advertising in her article “When Smoking was Chic.”

Try New Virginia Slims

I’ve always found popular culture and advertising fascinating because they give us a multi-faceted source for understanding the past. While media certainly has a lot of influence in shaping trends and perceptions, it also reflects the values of a society at that moment in time.

In her article, Cook presents ads aimed at women and explores the changing roles of women throughout the 20th century. From “respectable” ladies to the working woman, we can see how images of women in media change over time.

Virginia Slims was one cigarette brand that capitalized on, and reflected, the changing role of women. Their famous 1968 campaign “You’ve come a long way, baby!” equated cigarettes with freedom and smoking as a new right that women gained through the early women’s movement. In the midst of a new wave of feminism of the 60s and 70s, Virginia Slims appealed to a new generation of women. Of course, it’s interesting to note that Virginia Slims reinforce traditional forms of femininity – with slim cigarettes designed for “the feminine hand” (and presumably make the woman feel slim), packs that fit into a purse, and a light taste designed for women.

This video is a compilation of tv ads from the early “You’ve come a long way, baby” campaign. There are some real gems in here:

I found this video through the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, hosted by the University of California, San Francisco. This massive database was created to house internal documents related to the tobacco industry, but it also has a lot of interesting media and multimedia files. The database is text-searchable and you can filter by collection, as well.

Virginia Slims ad with Superwoman

The Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising is another great place to look for smoking ads. They have a lot of high-quality images, which are grouped by theme for easy searching and browsing.

Stanford Research into the impact of Tobacco Advertizing

MediaSmarts is another good source for teaching about media and advertising. They have a number of lesson plans specifically about tobacco advertising, such as:

  • Gender and Tobacco - In this lesson, students explore gender-related influences on smoking.
  • Selling Tobacco - In this lesson, students explore how tobacco advertising has evolved over the past sixty years.
  • Tobacco Advertising in Canada - In this lesson, students explore the ways in which tobacco products are marketed in Canada.

If you're interested in learning more about tobacco advertising, you can check out Sharon Cook's book Sex, Lies, and Cigarettes: Canadian Women, Smoking, and Visual Culture, 1880–2000.

You might also be interested in Advertising: Reflections of Culture and Value, written by Rose Fine-Meyer (2007 recipient of the Governor General's History Award for Excellence in Teaching) and Stephanie K. Gibson. The book is designed for grade 9-12 students.

Posted: 08/04/2014 2:19:34 PM by JOANNA DAWSON | with 0 comments

The Canadian Education Association (CEA) is looking for submissions for the 2014 Pat Clifford Award. The award recognizes individuals for emerging research in the field of education and those who "show promise of making a significant contribution to educational concepts, theory, policy and/or practice."

Educators who are in the process of completing their Masters or PhD, or who have completed these degrees in the past 2 years, are eligible to apply. The deadline for submissions is May 30, 2014. You can find all the details at www.cea-ace.ca/awards/clifford-award.

In looking through past recipients, I spotted our friend Carla Peck, as the 2010 recipient. Carla has been involved in the Historical Thinking Project, and has done a lot of work to encourage an inquiry-based approach to teaching history. Her current research looks at how students with diverse backgrounds in multicultural countries engage with key moments from their nation's past. You can listen to a podcast with Carla from when she received the Pat Clifford Award in 2010 to learn more about her work.

Posted: 26/03/2014 4:10:17 PM by JOANNA DAWSON | with 0 comments

Despite the weather outside (for most of us, at least), spring is on its way. The birds are starting to whistle their springtime tunes, the snow is melting, and all over Canada, eager young minds are busy with their heritage fair projects.

Student in front of Heritage Fair project

If you don't know about Heritage Fairs, this is an exciting moment for you. If you're a history-enthusiast, you'll be thrilled to know that thousands of students participate in hundreds of these fairs in every province and territory. It follows a similar format to a science fair: student conduct research on a topic of their choice, present their findings in a visual format, and share their work with judges, parents, their peers, and community members.

Doesn't it just warm your heart to think of all the history that's being learned and shared over dinners tables in Canada right now?

Girl displays heritage fair project

Fairs are typically volunteer-run and any donation of time or resources will go a long way. There are lots of ways that you (or your business) can get involved:

  • donate snacks or lunch for the kids
  • be a guest judge
  • donate swag for gift bags
  • donate prizes
  • sponsor an award
  • donate coffee for the teachers
  • donate music / entertainment
  • provide a unique venue
  • help with set-up
  • host a workshop

Most importantly, you should just show up to see the students' work! Most fairs host a public night where members of the community can come out to see the projects. Stop by, talk to some amazing students, learn some history and feel good about the future!

Visit HeritageFairs.ca to find a fair in your community.

Posted: 13/03/2014 8:58:22 AM by JOANNA DAWSON | with 0 comments

In the February/March issue of Canada’s History, Christopher Moore takes us through an exercise of alternative history in his article “Canada without Medicare.” Moore asks readers to consider the Canada of today if the 1962 doctor’s strike in Saskatchewan had succeeded and Tommy Douglas’ vision of a socialized healthcare system was shattered. It’s a great way for having students think through this influential event and to understand all the forces that came together to make it a reality. You can pick up an issue on the newsstands or buy a copy today.

Tommy Douglas

We have some more resources you can use to teach about the history of Canada’s health care system. As you explore the resources, here are some of the questions your class may woish to discuss:

  • What were some of the arguments made by supporters of medicare? What were some of the arguments made by its opponents? Which do you find more convincing? (Hold a debate in your class!)
  • How did events in the 20th century (urbanization, industrialization, the First and Second World Wars, the Great Depression, eg) lead to changes in Canada’s health care?
  • To what extent did different groups and individuals (women, doctors, Tommy Douglas, etc) affect the campaign for socialized health care in Saskatchewan and Canada?

Making Medicare

"Making Medicare" is a virtual exhibit from the Canadian Museum of History that chronicles the history of health care in Canada. The scope of the content is extensive, covering the Canadian experience since 1914 and touching on the history, economics, and key individuals that helped shape today's health care system.

The Fight For Medicare

This video from the NFB provides a good history of Medicare and looks at how Saskatchewan – with its history of pioneering and rural cooperation – became the birthplace of socialized health care.

Posted: 21/02/2014 3:14:18 PM by JOANNA DAWSON | with 0 comments

Last week, we had a great webinar with Rachel Collishaw (2013 GG recipient) all about assessing historical thinking. The year-end exams and term papers weren't cutting it for Rachel — the students weren't engaged and she was drowning in stacks of papers — so she and her colleague completely redesigned the assessment model for their grade 10 history classes.

Marking papers

Now, Rachel has each of her students participate in a primary source interview. The students get to select a primary document to discuss and have a few days to research and prepare their analysis. They must think about the content, the context, the historical significance and its connection to our current world. Then, they meet with Rachel and talk about what they learned and what they think about history! It's wonderful! This model encourages a much deeper understanding of history and challenges the students to formulate their own ideas and questions.

You can watch a recording of the webinar to learn more about this method — including a lot of the logistics behind such an undertaking.

Be sure to check out Rachel's website at collishaw.pbworks.com and connect with her on Twitter.

Posted: 19/02/2014 9:21:42 AM by JOANNA DAWSON | with 0 comments

Amy Park (2010 GG recipient) speaks about her award-winning project and using the discipline-based inquiry rubric developed by the Galileo Educational Network.

Amy had her grade 2 students examine Inuit artifacts and explore their cultural significance, how the objects changed over time, and the impact they had on Inuit culture. The students used their research to create a digital story about their objects.

You can learn more about Amy's work and download the lesson plan here.

Posted: 13/02/2014 2:45:09 PM by JOANNA DAWSON | with 0 comments

Neil Stephenson (2009 GG recipient) invites your classroom to watch a livestream from Delta District School Board in British Columbia of their Holocaust Symposium on February 24th.

The event will provide a free, online Livestream of a presentation by a Holocaust Survivor, followed by a panel discussion and Q&A time. The livestreaming will begin at 10:00am (PST) and will last until around 11:45am (PST).

This event is free, but you must register for the livestream.

For more information, visit DeltaLearns.ca/HolocaustSymposium

Posted: 12/02/2014 1:51:34 PM by JOANNA DAWSON | with 0 comments

History with Class

News, Pro-D events, resources, and gadgets for teaching your students about "way back then." Adopt and adapt ideas as needed. Send contributions to jdawson@canadashistory.ca.

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