Teaching Canadian History

I have always loved history. In grade four I remember doing a unit on ancient Egypt that captured my imagination. We did a group project, and I created the cover page with Egyptian ladies in their diaphanous dresses, braided wigs and scented melting wax on their heads.

Perhaps it was that I was from a generation who read the Little House on the Prairie series of books and then watched the not-so-accurate version on television.

I can trace my extreme love for the study of history to my grade six teacher, Mrs. Carter. We had class rotations at that time for certain subjects. It was great, because teachers who had an expertise in a certain area could really share their wealth of knowledge with us.

On the first day of history class, Mrs. Carter put a big pile of novels on the top of her desk and told us all to pick one. They were historical fiction. I forget the exact title of the one I picked at random, but it was about the fortress at Louisbourg and how the British had taken it from the French in a daring and spy-like campaign. I was hooked on history from that moment.

Historical fiction is a great way to make history come alive. It goes beyond the battles and dates and timelines (which are important) and into the very imagination of the reader. It is a way to understand the culture of the times and see how people lived long ago. It is a fun way to understand how we got to where we are today.

Another thing we did in that history class was a lot of hands-on projects. One of them was the making of pemmican. Sure, we used roast beef instead of buffalo meat, but it is indelible in my memory because of my creative teacher. Museums are also a great way to learn in a hands-on way. The interpreters often demonstrate black smithing and bread baking. A reconstructed longhouse is a great place to visit in order to picture how people lived in Canada long ago.

In most high schools in Canada, we are only required to take one history credit. Without a passion for understanding where we came from we will never truly understand why we are where we are as a nation or where we are going. The study of history can help to put everything into perspective. We need to teach beyond facts and dates and go further into themes and cultures and worldviews and implications for today.

Due to the influence of Mrs. Carter and many other great history teachers, I went on to study history in university, and to write a Canadian audio history for children. You never know what teaching history well will inspire in your students.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit the fortress at Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island. The picture below is one I took there. For me it was very significant because of that book I had read back in grade six. I had waited three decades to see the place I had read about. The place that sparked my love of history. I ate pea soup with pewter utensils and gazed upon the architecture and learned from the interpreters and took photos. And I thought about Mrs. Carter, and how she had inspired me with her teaching.

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