Picturing the Past
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Activity, printable version

Lesson 4: Landscape and Canadian Identity

Learning Objectives

  • Cognitive: Students will learn that the Toronto Art Students' League, Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven were among the first (there are other regional examples), and the most famous, to depict the Canadian landscape
  • Affective: Students will appreciate that the Canadian landscape is often associated with national identity
  • Behavioural: Students will explore the relationship between landscape and the Canadian national identity by analyzing a work of art


In the The Searchers section of the website, examine the Artists subsection.

Ask your students what the Canadian landscape means to them, and write their answers on the board.

  • What is unique about the part of Canada they live in?
  • Are there local artists or songwriters that produce works of art or music about your region (if so, you might want to bring in some samples for discussion)?
  • If any of the students have traveled outside their region or come from different parts of Canada, ask them what they miss most about those other parts of the country.

Do they think in national or regional terms? Students from the Maritimes might feel that the ocean is special to them, and students from the West might feel the same about the mountains or prairies.

Facilitate a discussion about the Toronto Art Students’ League, Tom Thomson, and the Group of Seven. Find a Tom Thomson or Group of Seven painting, from your region if possible, and bring it in for discussion. Ask the students to comment on the painting. How does it compare to ideas they have about regional or national identity?


Have each student research and write a 750-word essay about the relationship between landscape and the Canadian national identity. They should examine a relevant work of art from a selection defined by the educator.

You can ask them to consider some of the following questions:

  • Is there a conflict between regional and national identity?
  • Do artistic depictions of the landscape ignore important aspects of the contemporary Canadian national identity (e.g., multiculturalism)?
  • Do artistic depictions of the landscape glorify some aspects of the landscape and ignore others?
  • Why do Canadians feel intimately associated with a rural landscape when so many people live in cities?

Other Resources: in English

Water, Art, and the Canadian Identity: At the Water’s Edge


Includes lesson plans

Telling Stories: Narratives of Nationhood


The Group of Seven – The McMichael Canadian Art Collection


The Group of Seven: Painters in the Wilderness


Includes educational resources

The History of Canada’s National Parks: Their Evolution and Contribution Towards Canadian Identity http://www.pc.gc.ca/apprendre-learn/prof/itm2-crp-trc/pdf/evolution_e.pdf

Includes educational resources

Autre Resources: en Français

L'eau, les arts et l'identité canadienne : au bord de l'eau


Includes educational resources

Raconteurs d’histoires : récits de la nation


Includes educational resources

Le Groupe des sept, peintres de la nature


Includes educational resources

L’histoire des parcs nationaux du Canada : leur évolution et leur contribution à l’identité canadienne


Includes educational resources