Picturing the Past
Teacher Section
Pages: 1  2  3  4 

Activity, printable version

The following pages are designed to be printed out for the class.

Introduction and Letter 1

Discussion Question

James has read stories, looked at pictures and read brochures about the Canadian West, which have influenced his ideas about what he will see and find there.

Look at the brochures the travel agent gave to James, which appear on the side bars of letters 1, 4 and 9, as well as the promotional video clips throughout the letters: How did advertisers “sell” images of places, people and products to James? How have advertisements today changed? How are they similar?

Write notes about each Primary Source (videos, pictures and brochures) you find in the chart below.

What types of words and slogans are used?

Do you see any reoccurring themes or images?

Essay Question

The people who rode the rails by sneaking onto freight trains during the Depression of the 1930s were often young single men who were not eligible for the same benefits as people with families. Families were given relief payments, which provided some food and basic clothing. They were allowed to live in accommodations of their choosing as long as the rent was less than $13 per month, which usually meant whole families shared one room in a boarding house. However, the single men were expected to live in barracks, with rules inspired by the military, to receive relief. They were not given food vouchers, but instead fed in communal kitchens. These young men were forced to work in relief camps for 20 cents a day, performing tasks that had little value, such as splitting wood with an axe (even though chain saws were invented, the government wanted to make sure they could keep as many men busy as possible by forcing them to use hand tools), building elaborate bridges over small rivers or building roads to places no one travelled. In 1935, the frustration these men felt resulted in the "On to Ottawa" trek.

Question: What was the "On to Ottawa" trek? What were the men's goals? How did it end? Why do you think the government worked so hard to suppress it?

Additional Resources

Read about the "On to Ottawa" Trek http://www.ontoottawa.ca/trek/trek.html

Hear the trek anthem "Hold the Fort," which was recorded in 1986 to raise money for strike support. http://www.ontoottawa.ca/holdthefort.mov

Letter 2

James writes to Ellie about his first day of travelling on the Prairie, dust storms, young boys working and black blizzards.
Short-Answer Questions

For extra room, use the back of this sheet.

A. What is a "black blizzard" and why did they occur on the Prairies during the Depression?

B. What did families do to deal with the Depression, poverty and drought on the Prairies?

C. What was the "Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Project"?

Letter 3

James writes of his visit to Regina, dancing, the diner incident, drought and radio.

Discussion or Essay Questions

A. Recreation was very important in the 1930s. People attended movies, went to weekly dances, developed theatre groups, borrowed books on adventure, philosophy, economics and fiction from the local library and listened to radio programs called "soap operas" (because the first ones were sponsored by soap companies). Many families worked extra hard to find the money needed to enjoy these activities. Why do you think recreation was so important to poor families during the Depression of the 1930s?

B. Regina is situated within the region known as the Palliser Triangle -- a section of southern Saskatchewan and Alberta that, in 1863, was surveyed by John Palliser and declared unsuitable for farming because it was an extension of the sandy American Desert region. Palliser claimed in his report to the Dominion government that the land was more suitable for growing grass and raising cattle than farming. The government ignored his advice and advertised the area to settlers for farming. They claimed it was ready-made for farms because of the lack of trees. Unfortunately, Palliser correctly anticipated that the area would be problematic for farmers. Wheat farming broke the topsoil into small particles, and when, during the Depression, the entire area was struck by drought, the top soil turned to sand and blew away in clouds of black dust. Hundreds of farms had to be abandoned.

Question: Why do you think the Dominion government ignored Palliser's advice and advertised the area for farming to immigrants at the beginning of the twentieth century?

Additional Resources

University of Calgary, "Applied History: Calgary and Southern Alberta"

National Resources Canada, "Palliser Triangle Global Change Project"

The Canadian Encyclopaedia, "Drought in Palliser's Triangle"

Immigrant Voices, "Laurier Boom"