Canadian History in the Twentieth Century

Activity 4: Canada’s Identity in World War I and the 1920s

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Activity 4: Canada’s Identity in World War I and the 1920s

Time: 240 minutes


In this activity, students become aware of the historical reasons why many French-Canadians were opposed to compulsory military service for a war fought overseas. Students examine some of the roots of French-Canadian dissatisfaction as highlighted in the 1917-1918 conscription crisis. The contributions of various groups to Canada’s war effort are examined. Students gain a further understanding of the Canadian identity by researching and role playing Canadians from the era of World War I and from the decade following the war.

Strand(s) and Expectations

Ontario Catholic School Graduate Expectations: CGE5e, 7g.

Strand(s): Communities: Local, National, and Global; Change and Continuity; Citizenship and Heritage; Methods of Historical Inquiry

Overall Expectations: CGV.01, CGV.03, CGV.04, CHV.02, MIV.02, MIV.04.

Specific Expectations

CG3.02 - explain how the conscription crises of World Wars I and II created tensions between English Canada and Quebec;

CG4.04 - describe how Canadians of various backgrounds, individually and as communities, contributed at home and overseas to the war effort during World War I and World War II;

CH2.01 - demonstrate an understanding of how significant individuals contributed to the growing sense of Canadian identity during World War I;

SP2.03 - demonstrate an understanding of the role of government in wartime and explain why the government acted as it did;

MI1.02 - use who, what, where, when, why, and how questions effectively when researching historical topics and issues;

MI4.03 - express ideas and arguments in a coherent manner during discussions and debates, or in graphic displays;

MI4.04 - demonstrate after participating in dramatizations of historical events, insights into historical figures’ situations and decisions.

Planning Notes

  • Prepare summary notes dealing with arguments in favour of, and against, conscription in 1917. These notes are used by students as a supplement to textbook material.

  • Be prepared to provide paper for students’ propaganda posters.

  • Be prepared to set aside research material in the classroom and/or Library/Resource Centre to assist students in their research of a designated event or individual for role-playing purposes.

  • Obtain examples of World War I propaganda posters from textbooks or other sources.

  • Some of the student role playing prepared in this activity is presented during Activity 5.

Prior Knowledge Required

The students need to know some background knowledge about French-English relations in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Teaching/Learning Strategies

1. The teacher reviews with students the history of French-English relations in Canada prior to the twentieth century. The teacher asks students to examine the response of French Canada to the Boer War and World War I. Using historical data from the time of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (1759), the class discusses the reasons why many people in French Canada were opposed to involvement in wars outside of Canada’s borders.

2. The teacher introduces the concept of conscription or government-enforced military service. The teacher divides the class in half and asks one half of the class to research reasons why conscription should be introduced in Canada in 1917. The other half of the class researches reasons why conscription should not be introduced in Canada in 1917. The research may be performed in textbooks and other print sources provided by the teacher. The teacher may need to guide students in their research. The teacher informs the side of the class researching the opposition to conscription that many of their arguments were the arguments of a majority of French-Canadians. After the research is completed, one side of the class role plays the elected members of the Robert Borden government in 1917 and presents arguments in favour of conscription. The other side of the class role plays the elected members of the opposition Liberals in 1917 and presents arguments against conscription.

3. After the completion of the conscription debate, the teacher leads the class in a debriefing. The major points discussed in the debate are reviewed and explained. The teacher does the review in a Socratic fashion with the entire class. The class then discusses of the effects of conscription on French-English relations during World War I and after.

4. In their textbooks or other sources, students read about the contributions of various groups to Canada’s war effort. Students read about the contributions of Canadian women to the war effort. The teacher may use selected segments from the videos Battle of Vimy Ridge and The Kid Who Couldn’t Miss (Billy Bishop) to present students with information about the contributions of various groups and individuals to Canada’s war effort. The video World War I: Canada’s Role contains a segment on the achievements of Canadian women during World War I. Students compose notes on the contributions of various groups to Canada’s war effort.

5. In order to understand how the role of government changed during World War I, students read in their textbooks about the changing role of government in the period 1914-1918. In their notebooks, students list reasons why the Canadian government became a larger factor in people’s lives during World War I. Students list examples of increased government involvement in citizens’ lives (conscription, income taxes, rationing, censorship). The class discusses the concept of propaganda and the use of government propaganda in time of warfare . After studying examples of World War I propaganda posters, each student creates his/her own propaganda poster.

6. Students, individually or in groups of two, research a designated individual and then explain to the class how the individual contributed to a sense of Canadian identity in the first three decades of the twentieth century. Some students work individually. Other students work in pairs with one student role-playing the historical individual and the other student role playing a modern television interviewer. Then the two roles may be reversed. See Appendix 1.4.1 – Assignment Sheet for Student Role Playing for a list of twenty-one roles. In explaining this strategy to students, the teacher should present a model of role-playing. The teacher also gives the students a copy of Appendix 1.4.2 – A Rubric for Role Playing and discusses the components of successful role playing. The teacher should have material available in the classroom or Library/Resource Centre to assist students in their research.

7. At the completion of each role play described above, the class composes notes on the Canadian personality presented. The notes should summarize how the individual contributed to a sense of Canadian identity. The accomplishments of Canadians at the Battle of Ypres and the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the accomplishments of Canadians on the home front, as well as the accomplishments of Sam Hughes, Billy Bishop, Arthur Currie, John McCrae, and Robert Borden provide students with an understanding of the development of a Canadian identity during World War I.

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