Building British Columbia

Project explores province’s labour movement and the people involved.

Written by Marianne Helm

February 7, 2019

When Ken Novakowski taught high school social studies and history, he struggled to find classroom resources that showed how everyday workers contributed to shaping British Columbia.

“As a teacher in the 1970s, I often found that my students did not see themselves or their families in the history that was being taught,” said Novakowski, who was involved in the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation union.

Novakowski felt it was important that students know there is more to history than the stories of politicians and entrepreneurs.

“When we did labour-history issues, many [students] had their interest piqued because we were talking about ordinary folks like them and their families,” Novakowski said.

From lumber mill fires, to asbestos exposure, to coal mining disasters and subsequent strikes, the B.C. labour movement persistently pushed for health and safety regulations to protect workers facing dangerous working conditions.

But Novakowski couldn’t find resources that reflected this history for his classroom.

So the BC Labour Heritage Centre Society, which was founded in 2004, created a labour history curriculum project. Both current and retired teachers contributed, and Novakowski chaired the project from 2011 to 2017.

“The primary goal of the BC Labour Heritage Centre is to initiate and support projects or events that acknowledge the important role that working people and their unions played in building our province and our country,” Novakowski said.

The project offers case studies, lesson plans, and multimedia projects and activities about British Columbia’s labour movement, acknowledging the role of working people and their unions and how they helped to build the province.

Thousands of students have had access to the resources. For instance, a grade twelve lesson about social justice, workers, and the global economy has been downloaded nearly four thousand times.

History Makers is an ongoing celebration of community-based history initiatives across Canada. The Labour History Project was shortlisted for the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Community Programming.

This article originally appeared in the April-May 2019 issue of Canada’s History.

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