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Canada's Democratic History

Many Canadians assume that their nation’s democratic history started in 1867 with Confederation. This couldn’t be further from the truth. This learning module will help students understand that the story of Canadian democracy began long before that, in places like Ancient Athens 2,500 years ago, and in aboriginal talking circles throughout North America long before Europeans settled the land.

The module opens with a performance task that provides an overarching purpose for the exploration of Canada’s democratic history. By imagining themselves as participants in a “Top-5” game show, students must turn through the pages of history in order to determine what events, developments, and/or people were most influential in forming Canada’s current democracy.

The module also challenges students to adopt multiple perspectives as they examine the historical content. Their “Top-5” list must include one item that represents a point of view from each of the following groups of people:

  1. French-Canadians,
  2. Anglo-Canadians,
  3. Aboriginal Canadians,
  4. Canadian Immigrants,
  5. Political Philosophers.

These roles challenge students to critically analyze Canada’s history from different perspectives, deepening their understanding and appreciation.

The curricular content then moves into a sweeping analysis of 2,500 years of historical highlights that relate to Canadian democracy today. The task for students, however, is to evaluate which ones – from the various perspectives – were most important. For example, students learn that Canada has Ancient Rome to thank for the creation of civil servants, middle-aged England for constitutionalism, Voltaire to thank for secularism and the underpinnings of multiculturalism, and the Canadian suffragettes for fighting for women’s rights. But which are most important? No two students will have the same answer.

Students also learn that Canada’s democratic history is not without its dark periods: from abusive treatment of aboriginal peoples, discriminatory policies towards minority groups, to the internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War II.

By the end of this module, students will understand that Canada is a nation of many peoples and histories, and has become democratic for everyone only recently (or has it?). Students will appreciate that Canadian democracy is an evolutionary process that continues today – it did not end with the patriation of the constitution in 1982. Will Canada forever have the Monarch of England as the head of state? Will Aboriginal Peoples be granted the right to self-govern? Is everyone really an equal participant in Canadian democracy today? How can our democracy be improved?