Postcards from the Past

An interactive history unit in Stephen Dame’s Grade 7 Humanities class has allowed the boys to learn about Canadian history and explore the city of Toronto, while acting as educators to the general public. 
Called Postcards from the Past, the unit saw the boys write first-person postcards from a Canadian historian and drop them off at sites around the city. Students had to research four people before selecting their postcard. Once chosen, they also had to research an historical site related to that person. 
Historical characters included George Brown, Al Purdy, Emily Stowe, Laura Secord, Terry Fox, Hayley Wickenheiser, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Henry Pellatt, Jane Jacobs and numerous others. 

“We tried to deliberately include more women, more people of colour and more indigenous people, so that as we’re doing the project, they start to wonder ‘why only old, white dudes have statues’,” said Mr. Dame. “That’s one of the lessons they learn.”

Postcard drop-off sites included the John Graves Simcoe statue, Sick Kids Hospital, Philosopher’s Walk, Royal Canadian Military Institute, BMO Field, Canoe Landing, Scotiabank Arena, Canada Square, June Callwood Park, Baldwin Steps, Wychwood Barns and Christie Pits. This was another lesson for the boys. 

“In our exploration, we teach them the geography and history of Toronto. Otherwise, they tend to stick to the subway line and don’t know the nooks and crannies of their own city,” said Mr. Dame. “The boys love it because they start to realize why this park is called Christie Pits or why Bathurst Street is called what it is.”

On the postcards, the students were instructed to include – on behalf of the historical figure – what they want people to know about them, how they will be remembered, what amazing things they achieved in their lives and what message they have for the Toronto of the future. Each boy left an email address so that whomever finds the card can write a response. So far, two responses have been received. 

Mr. Dame, who adapted the unit for the classroom with permission from the website, knows that in addition to the research skills attained during Postcards from the Past, the boys are also learning about history in a unique way.

“They come to appreciate the history of their own community, which is important because we’re often inundated by American culture in Canada,” he said. “This is putting our boys back in touch with their own history.” 

Ben Anderson, who researched and wrote on behalf of doctor Frederick Banting, is still waiting for a response to his card, but he certainly had fun during the unit. 

“I learned a lot of different things from so many people that I wouldn’t normally have learned about,” said Ben. “I especially loved going out into the city.”