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Canada — 150 Years of Stories

by Brenda Boreham

Are you old enough to remember the great flag debate of 1964? What a story that was! Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson formed a multi-party parliamentary committee to select a distinctive design for the Canadian flag. After 308 speeches, months of debate and the consideration of thousand of designs, the committee voted unanimously to adopt our current flag. I was in junior high school at the time and I remember that the debate became very intense. It also provided a rich topic for classroom discussions, design contests within our school and yes, several writing assignments.

A few years later we found ourselves celebrating the 100th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Schools, communities and organizations across the country engaged in all kinds of Centennial projects (everything from concerts and stage performances to establishing new parks). The Canadian Mint issued centennial coins. The Centennial Flame was installed on Parliament Hill. The Centennial Train carried exhibits across the country. And who could forget the story of Expo 67? I was in high school by this time and each student was issued a copy of a book from the Queen’s Printer called “Canada One Hundred 1867 – 1967.” It is sitting here, on my desk, as I write this article so many years later. We were also issued a commemorative coin but mine, sadly, has disappeared from view.

So, in the blink of an eye (or so it seems), here we are celebrating Canada’s Sesquicentennial. [Editor’s note: That was a new word for me so I looked it up: of or relating to the one-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of a significant event.] Schools from coast, to coast, to coast will be planning events and projects to mark this historic occasion. The following are just a few of the many sources of information that might prove helpful to you when planning events at your school.


National Trust for Canada: This organization is a national charity that promotes the preservation of historic places. The National Trust leads Canada in celebrating Heritage Day on the third Monday in February each year. The theme “My Canada” has been selected for Heritage Day 2017. For information, phone 1-866-964-1066, email or visit:

Parks Canada: Parks Canada is offering free admission to national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas operated by Parks Canada for 2017. Access to Parks Canada’s historic canals and waterways is also free.

ParticipACTION 150 Play List: ParticipACTION is issuing a challenge to all Canadians to see how many different activities they can complete in 2017.

Universities Canada: This website offers tools, tips and resources to help universities plan for projects and events that will celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation.

A Kids’ Guide to Canada By Kids, For Kids: This is a national teacher-led project that has been organized by elementary teachers across the country. Beginning on January 1, 2017, elementary school students from JK to Grade 8 are invited to celebrate Canada’s birthday by introducing their home community to their peers across Canada.

Parliament of Canada: This comprehensive Library of Parliament website provides information about current parliamentary business, the senators and members of parliament, visitor information and free resources for educators (class activities, resources, school trips, etc.).

National Film Board of Canada: The NFB is a great resource for Canadian teachers—over 3000 productions available for download or streaming. For school use you will need a Campus subscription. Click on “EDUCATION” for more information.

National Days and Observances in Canada

The Canadian calendar is filled with many celebratory and commemorative days. Most of these designated days are symbolic and are not holidays. The following is just a partial list of the National Days or Observances that could be highlighted when planning school projects and celebrations in 2017. For a full list of designated days, visit: and search for “Designation of National Days and Observances in Canada.”

February: Black History Month
February 15: National Flag of Canada Day
February 20: Heritage Day (Theme: My Canada)
May 18: International Museum Day
June 21: National Aboriginal Day
June 27: Canadian Multiculturalism Day
July 1: Canada Day

Picture Books

There are many excellent children’s books that celebrate Canada’s culture, history and landscape. A great book for getting a class started on a study of Canada is Hold On, McGinty! by Nancy Hartry. It could be used as a springboard for teaching content right across the curriculum from Math to Geography. My Home Bay by Anne Laurel Carter and O Canada by Ted Harrison are other good titles to consider.


Hold On, McGinty!
by Nancy Hartry
illustrated by Don Kilby
Doubleday Canada, 1997
ISBN 0-385-25710-4 (pbk)
ISBN 0-385-25647-7 (hc)

Old McGinty pushed his fishing dory, The Heart’s Content, into the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean every morning for over sixty years. Each evening he came ashore with a boat load of cod fish. But, one day, McGinty returned with only a few, small, slippery fish. As the cod became more and more difficult to find, McGinty was forced to consider his future in Newfoundland. Finally, he was convinced to close up his house and move to Vancouver Island to live with his granddaughter Molly. The Heart’s Content was loaded onto a freight train and McGinty flew to Toronto to wait for its arrival. Unable to remain separated from the little dory any longer, McGinty hid under the tarps on the boat and made the rest of the trip with her. As the dory (and stowaway McGinty) rolled along the tracks, the reader is treated to a view of the vast landscapes that make up our country. McGinty and the boat finally reached the Pacific Ocean and —
He took an oar and splashed her until she was slippery and shining. He pulled on his sou’wester and his big rubber boots and out from his pockets came maps and charts.

By the time the sun came up, McGinty was trolling for salmon.

This is a strong story filled with rich and descriptive language. It would make an appropriate and easy fit for any classroom study of Canada. It could also be used as a catalyst for engaging in the discussion of depleted fish stocks on the east and west coasts.


Reading Activities for Hold On, McGinty!

Activity 1: Before Reading

Goal: To introduce questioning as a reading strategy.

Materials: chalkboard or chart paper

Step 1

Explain that readers ask questions before, during and after reading a piece of text.

Explain that there are two kinds of questions:

- Some questions have answers that can be found in the text and illustrations.

- Some questions rely on the reader to come up with an answer by doing some deeper thinking about the text.

Step 2

Brainstorm a list of question words. Encourage the students to come up with words beyond who, what, where, when and why that could be used to begin a question, e.g., can, will, do, how, if, is, was, etc. Record the words on the chalkboard or a chart.

Activity 2: Before Reading

Goal: To practise questioning as a reading strategy.

Materials: one object that is connected to the story, e.g., an oar, a model train, a model of a dory, a map, rubber boots, a globe, etc.

Step 1

Conceal the object from the students.

Step 2

Ask the students to guess what the concealed object is by asking you questions. The rules for questioning are:

- Each student is permitted to ask one question before a guess is made.

- Each question must start with one of the question words on the list.

- When a question is asked, the answer can only be “yes” or “no.”

When the object has been identified, explain that it is connected to the story that you are about to read to them.

Ask the students to make a prediction about how the object is connected to the story and to share their prediction with a pre-determined partner.

Ask the students to listen to the story to find evidence to support their predictions.

Activity 3: During Reading

Goal: To practise questioning as a reading strategy (answers to be found in the text or illustrations).

Materials: one copy of Hold On, McGinty! and four sticky notes.

Step 1

Before the lesson, read through the book and place sticky notes on the pages where you will ask the students to engage in questioning.

Step 2

Begin to read the story to the students. Stop at the end of the page where you have placed your first sticky note. Share the illustration with the students.

Ask each student to turn to a predetermined partner and ask a question about something in the text or illustration on that page. The rules for questioning are:

- Each question must start with a word from the list.

- The answer to the question must be found in the text or in the illustration on that page.

Continue reading and questioning until the end of the story is reached.

Activity 4: After Reading

Goal: To practise questioning as a reading strategy (answers are found as a result of the reader thinking about the text).

Materials: one copy of Hold On, McGinty!

Step 1

Re-read the first two pages of the story.

Ask the students to recall why McGinty decided to move to Vancouver Island to live with his granddaughter.

Ask each student to turn to a predetermined partner to discuss the following question: What do you think happened to the cod fish?

Step 2

Have some students share their thoughts with the larger group.

Step 3

Discuss with the students the difference in answering this question and the questions in Activity 3.



Brenda Boreham

Brenda has 35 years of classroom experience. She has presented workshops on literature based themes and literacy strategies, and has written a number of resources for teachers. She remains passionate about matching up kids with books.

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