Picturing the Past
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Activity, printable version


Lesson 1: The Industrializing City

Learning Objectives

  • Cognitive: Students will learn that industrialization, urbanization and immigration had a significant impact on Canadian society in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries
  • Affective: Students will appreciate the impact of the changing nature of cities on individuals during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries
  • Behavioural: Students will explore and research the history of their own region


After examining the images used in The City section of the website, discuss the impact of changes to city life during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. You might discuss rapid population growth, the rise of industrial factories, changes in transportation systems, the appearance of urban slums and the growing pollution.

Pose some questions to the class and write answers on the board.

  • What was it like to first see the automobile and electric streetcar?
  • What was it like to move from a rural to an urban setting?
  • What was it like to transition from working on a farm to working in a factory?
  • What was it like to immigrate from Europe to Canada?
  • What was it like to not speak the local language?
  • What was it like to make a lot of money by running a factory?
  • What was it like to be very poor and live in a crowded apartment?

How does this compare to life today?

Ask the students to think about changes they have noticed in Canadian society during their own lifetimes.


After choosing a year and researching the development of their own city during

that year, each student should envision themselves as a part of that historical

moment and write a 500-word letter to a relative or friend. Students might, for

example, envision themselves as a new immigrant to Canada and write a letter to

family overseas.

For the research component of this exercise, students must first conduct primary

and/or secondary research. After choosing the year from which to write, students

might examine the local newspaper and include details in their letter, such as the

building of new factories, roads, or a disastrous fire. This can be combined with

secondary research, from this website and elsewhere, about the implications of

living in a rapidly industrializing and urbanizing society.

Other Resources: in English

Canadian Labour History, 1850-1999


Internet Modern History Sourcebook: Industrial Revolution


Note: this site contains primary sources related to the Industrial Revolution,

but is predominantly European

Autre Resources: en Français

Histoire du mouvement ouvrier au Canada


La première révolution industrielle 1730 – 1803


Note : this site contains only European content

La Révolution Industrielle