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"Picturing" the Story of the Railway
Researching Aspects of the Creation of the Railway to Understand
How It Linked Canada
Students need to understand the role the creation of the railway
played in creating the Canadian identity and appreciate how this
has changed our country, economically and socially, since the groundbreaking
ceremony in 1875. The story of Alberta is intricately connected
to the development of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Why was the
CPR needed? What were some of the problems with creating such a
huge project? What was the Pacific Scandal of 1873? Who worked on
the construction of the transcontinental railway? How were the different
workers treated? How did the CPR begin to unite Canada? How can
we use primary resources like photographs to learn more about how
In this project, students will develop an appreciation of the story
of the building of the CPR, as well as the lifestyle of the managers
and the workers who built the railroad. Students will undertake
a jigsaw style of research, sharing their results with others, in
order to get a good picture of how the CPR was built. They will
use the research to create a story about a real or fictional character
that lived during this time. Using the Mavericks: An Incorrigible
History of Alberta and ImagesCanada.ca websites, they will search
for and find primary artifacts to add to and represent aspects of
the story. The stories and research may then be presented in various
different formats for their audience.
Alberta Social Studies Curriculum Unit Connections
Grade Four - Alberta: The Land, Histories and Stories
4.2 The Stories, Histories and People of Alberta
Grade Five - Canada: The Land, Histories and Stories
5.2 Histories and Stories of Ways of Life in Canada
5.3 Canada: Shaping an Identify
Grade Seven - Canada: Origins, Histories and Movement of People
7.2 Following Confederation: Canadian Expansions
Materials and Resources Needed
Students will conduct research for and create a historical fiction
story about a real or imaginary character that was a part of the
building of the CPR in the late 1800's. The project could be introduced
by using the Canadian Heritage Minute online video of the old Chinese
man telling his granddaughters -"They say that there is one
dead Chinese man for every mile of that track." A novel by
Paul Yee could also be appropriate, called Ghost Train, which
is the story of how the Chinese are still haunted by the loss of
railway workers' lives and the lack of credit during the building
of the CPR.
The style David Bouchard used in his Chinese legend picture books
could also be introduced to students. Mr. Bouchard wrote the story
of a Chinese legend or folktale, but provided an informational text
at the end of the book that goes into more depth about the subject
the story is about and the research he had to conduct. As students
work to write their historical fiction story, they could also be
creating a section, similar to what Mr. Bouchard has done, to explain
and discuss their research, the process they went through, and any
thoughts, successes, frustrations or unanswered questions they have
about their project.
Students will undertake a jigsaw style of research. Each student
or small group could research one or more general topics below on
the building of the CPR or one of the Maverick characters. They
would then share their results with the others in the class, allowing
each student to get a good picture of how the CPR was constructed.
Possible topics may include:
- How were the railway, bridges, and tunnels built? Where did
they get the raw materials? How were they constructed?
- What types of transportation were used in the construction?
What were the trains like at the time?
- What was the life of a worker like? (What did they eat and drink?
Where did they stay? How much were they paid? What kinds of jobs
did they do?)
- How were the Chinese railway workers treated? How were they
different than other workers? Why did many come to Canada?
- What challenges, hazards, and obstacles did the CPR face? How
were they overcome?
- What was the Pacific Scandal of 1873? How did it affect the
building of the CPR?
- What was the impact of the CPR on the land and its other natural
resources (e.g. rivers, mountains, animals, birds)
Research may be copied and pasted into one word processing document,
and then shared with each person in the class.
Students will then begin to brainstorm original ideas for characters
and stories or use some of the true examples from the characters
in the Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta resource.
The main character could be one of the Mavericks themselves, a friend
or relative, an enemy, an imaginary character, or even an ancestor
of the writer's. Once they have chosen an idea, they will
have to plan out the rest of the characters, setting, plot, major
events and conclusion. Students should use a planning format they
are used to or that is chosen by the teacher.
Once a story plan is developed, students will use the Mavericks:
An Incorrigible History of Alberta and ImagesCanada.ca
websites. They will search for primary artifacts and photographs
to assist and represent aspects of the story. (Another possibility
is for the students to find one photograph they are interested in
and tell the story behind that photograph.) Some tips on using the
Images Canada web site:
- Combine search terms to narrow results. The term "railway"
alone will yield 6886 matches but, for example, try "railway
construction" instead. This will provide 634 photos.
- Just the name can be used in a single search. Searching "william
pearce" yields 46 photos and "van horne" yields
- Click on "more information" under each picture to
find other subject terms to use in searching. For example, "railway
employees" will yield 479 photos.
- Photos may be copied into another program like Word and then
enlarged or printed in a landscape format if needed.
All images can be reproduced, in print and/or digital format,
for non-commercial, educational purposes. The images must
not be altered or manipulated in any way and proper credit must
accompany the images. See link below for more information.
Students will then undertake the writing process for their stories.
They should try to seamlessly include as much factual knowledge
about the way ranchers lived as possible. This will assist the writers
in giving the stories a true sense of realism and make them sound
authentic to their audience.
When the writing is finished, the stories and research may then
be presented and shared in various different formats with their
audience. It may just be the written story itself, it may be turned
into a picture book or poster with both photos and student art,
they may be posted on the Internet, they could create a PowerPoint
presentation or digital video, or it could even be turned into a
Assessment and Evaluation
- After the teacher and students collaboratively create a rubric,
students should use it as a guide for their learning as they are
working through the process, regularly checking that all the needed
elements are included in their work and revising as needed. The
rubric can then be used as a formal evaluative tool when they
have completed their project.
- In groups or as a class, students may conference and debrief
each other after they have presented their projects. Students
should be encouraged to share their personal reflections about
how it felt to speak in front of their audience.
- After completing the project, students may talk or journal about
what they felt they did very positively, what they had difficulty
with, and how they would change how they would approach a similar
project in the future.
- Students should use their journal to reflect upon their group
dynamics, how the problem solving process worked, their solutions
to the problem, what could have been done differently or better,
and any successes or frustrations they felt when working with
Ideas for Enriching this Project
- Students could take on the personality and clothing of the character
when they present or share their stories. (See also the "Becoming
a Western Legend" student activity)
- Students could create a web site for the class projects. This
may provide a "real" audience to share their stories
and research with. This project could even be done simultaneously
with students from another school in Alberta and then shared with
- All the stories and research could be put together as a class
book and "published".
- Students could use the real photographs from ImagesCanada.ca
to draw mechanical reproductions of their own. They could use
charcoal or pencil to achieve the black and white style, or redraw
the photo in colour.
- Students could print a photo in black and white and then use
watercolour paints to add colour. They may "colourize"
the whole photograph or only touch up small sections or parts
for emphasis. An example is the little girl's pink coat
in the black and white movie Schindler's List.