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It’s just around the corner at least in terms of history. The 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 starts next June and it will be a major historical moment in Canada, especially in the Great Lakes region.

To start getting ready for the event I’ve just finished reading Flames Across the Border, the 2nd installment in the Pierre Berton two part series covering the war. It’s a really phenominal read, very easy to get into, and has rekindled my interest in the time period.

I’m not sure what my impressions of the war were before I started reading. Anything I did learn in elementary school was minimal at best, and even in university my own areas of interest took me elsewhere. All I really knew was a handful of names and the large gaping hole in Brock’s jacket which sits in the War Museum in Ottawa.

But having read Flames Across the Border I was struck by the struggle. My own area of interest has traditionally been in European warfare where the size of the battles justifies their importance. But in North America the war was as much about the struggle to muster the necessities of life, transport them through hundreds of kilometers of open wilderness, and then prepare for battle.

Lots of work is also underway to commemorate the events in Canada. One website that is definitely worth checking out is They have a terrific map featuring some historic places in Southwestern Ontario, as well as this terrific video:

Posted: 04/08/2011 2:42:23 PM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments

As part of our tour of Montreal we also stopped at Pointe-à-Callière Museum in the old city. It's a beautiful museum that takes you through the archaeological history of Old Montreal.

It brings to life archeaology in a way that would be engaging to any visitory through a stunning underground preservation of the original foundations of Montreal. If you are in the city you have to visit this museum.

Posted: 27/04/2011 4:00:15 PM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments

Traveling through Montreal we had the chance to explore some of the great museums in the area. Château Ramezay has a great collection and some terrific programs happening throughout the year. But one piece of Canadiana in particular caught my eye.

Located over the fire cooking area in one of the displays was a giant wheel, similar to a hamster wheel. The chef would place a dog inside the wheel, causing it to turn, and through a system of levers and pullies, would turn whatever was roasting on the fire.

If it were made today, it would be sold on TV. But it's the ingenuity to dream up such a device that I thought would just be a great starting place into the history of the time, especially for kids.

Posted: 26/04/2011 8:54:48 AM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments

Jennifer Janzen has invited me to come in next week and talk to her students about Canada and the First World War. I'm a little nervous but very excited about the chance to step into a classroom. I'm mostly concerned though about making sure I don't stand and talk for two hours non-stop about the First World War, Trenches, Machine Guns and all kinds of other traditional material.

It's difficult to create engaging but historically relevant activities surrouding the first and second world war. I've watched enough of the history network to know that it's easy to sit there and drop into unending debates about Ross Rifles vs. Lee-Enfields or Panther tanks vs. Soviet T-34 Tanks. While maybe interesting for military history geeks, it's not really educational.

So what do you cover in a couple of hours and how do we get students to assess and think about the campaigns that were fought. I'm thinking about approaching it from after the war and discussion of where to build the monument to mark Canada's First World War effort. Vimy wasn't the only choice, and many would still argue that other campaigns - Ypres, Hill 70, the last 100 days - were all at least as important, if not more so.

I'm hoping the discussion could lead to some insightful research into the battles themselves, especially if supported with a variety of sources. I'll keep posting ideas over the next few days as I find more material.

Posted: 22/03/2011 9:37:48 AM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments

Talking with Matthew Komus from the Transcona Museum in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Posted: 09/12/2010 1:30:51 PM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments
Posted: 20/10/2010 3:35:30 PM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments

I'm really excited about our brand new issue of Kayak magazine that we're launching this coming week. The special Citizenship Issue of Kayak is a double issue, 64 pages, or everything that makes Canada tick.

And to kick things off we've started a new forum to hear about how you share Citizenship with your students. Go to the forum here and tell us about your classroom. We'll pick five classrooms that participate and send them a full class set of this brand new issue of Kayak.

Posted: 14/10/2010 3:00:28 PM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments

Over the past month I've had the real pleasure of interviewing almost all of the finalists from the 2010 Governor General's Award for Excellence in Teaching Canadian History.

Right from the first year that I was involved with the program, I was struck by the how genuine and interesting the recipients were. You really would have a hard time finding a nicer group of six people.

So a few years ago we started doing video in the classroom with the six recipients, but that really didn't seem fair considering the tremendous depth of the competition.

So this year, with our new website in tow, we've conducted interviews with many of the recipients, and the results are similar to the video. Again I was struck by how willing all of the finalists are to share their experience and to pass on their knowledge.

Which got me excited when I was thinking that we have nearly 20 interviews and probably more than three hours of interviews recoded. It's a unique primary source on how history is being taught in Canada at the moment, in the voice of real teachers.

It's not only an exciting resource to inspire new teachers to what can be accomplished in the classroom, but one that will provide insight into what inspired teachers at this time.

It's ironic in a way, because in the past we simply displayed a lesson plan on the website. But isn't that the same as putting up a text book in front of a student and asking them to read it. It's something we never would expect from any of these recipients.

I'm planning on introducing them each a little more personally over the coming weeks. But take a look through the interviews here (anyone with a link has an interview) or browse through them on the homepage.

Posted: 05/09/2010 4:44:38 PM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments

Last Friday I had the chance again to sit down with James Dykstra, a history teacher here in Winnipeg. Together the two of us worked on mapping out the Teachmeet/UnConference sessions that we are building for the Manitoba Social Science Teachers Association conference this fall.

We had some great discussions, and I think we have a good plan in place for what we are going to try. The question is how do we facilitate discussion amongst teachers, without speaking for the entire process ourselves. 

The plan we've come up with is to recreate the social bookmarking experience with live action. Now I would love for everyone to pull out their laptops and iPads to share resources, but we're starting small here and I don't want to spend an hour explaining Delicious.

So we're going to have each teacher write down a website or resource, attach their name or online handle, and tag it with three words from a predetermined vocabulary based on themes within the Manitoba curriculum. 

Each of these will be written on construction paper and then posted on the wall, to get people up and moving. After collecting connections based on grade level, we're going to try and physically resort the items by tags, as a way to show the connections between different teachers in the room. Then we can let those teachers speak to each other in groups about common goals or challenges they face in the classroom.

I'm not sure how we will get it all done in 50 minutes, but I think it will be a unique experience compared with most workshops and professional development. I'm excited about how it will develop further over the coming months. And of course we're going to videotape it all to record the experience.

Stay posted!

Posted: 16/08/2010 3:27:55 PM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments

I really like history, which you probably assumed since I work for Canada's History. So the only thing better than history, is a history field trip. And last week we headed out to the University of Manitoba Archives to see some historical maps and their digitization program.

I stumbled on the Manitoba Historical Maps Photostream a few weeks ago and got in touch with it's creator, Larry Laliberte. As soon as I saw they had digitized the fire insurance maps, one of the best sources for information about Canadian cities, I knew this was a great resource. It's a terrific collection of maps and images related to the history of Manitoba. And best of all, they have all been digitized and made easily available through Flickr.

The use of social media was particularly nice to see. It's great to see organizations making their collections easily available. In Teaching Canada's History I made a point of singling out the McCord Museum and their participation in Flickr Commons. Both collections are really terrific and more museums and archives should follow suit.


Posted: 26/07/2010 9:40:37 AM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments
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Joel Ralph

Joel Ralph is the Director of Programs for Canada's History Society. He is interested in the history education and the use of technology in the classroom.

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