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Georgia Lowen visited Juno Beach in April 2014 with Jennifer Janzen and her class.

Last April I had the privilege of going on the Canadian Battlefields Study Tour in France. I had lots of fun getting to know the other people on the tour, and we visited so many great historical sites! One of my personal favorite battlefields we visited was Juno Beach where Canada’s troops fought on June 6, 1944. The beach itself is in beautiful condition, with lovely sand and that quintessential ocean scent. However, the soldiers fighting there in 1944 surely would not have had the same feelings.

Before going to Juno Beach, my knowledge of the battle was rather limited. One of the most fascinating things that I learned, was that Juno Beach was not one of the only beaches along the English Channel that were vital to the Allies’ success. The Americans and British were both in charge of certain beaches that they needed to take from the Germans. The code names for the American beaches were Omaha and Utah, and for the British Gold and Sword. Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time, had a genius plan to engineer ports from large blocks of concrete that were able to be assembled overnight. The plan worked flawlessly on Gold and Sword Beach, but a storm took down the impromptu ports at Omaha and Utah beach. With phase one of the plan complete, it was up to Canada to take Juno Beach in order to connect Gold and Sword beaches. Overall, the attack was successful, but not without colossal death. Over 5,000 Canadian men died in battle.

Next to the beach is a wonderful museum in honour of the battle. It is exceptionally interactive and gives an in-depth look into what the soldiers had to go through. It takes you through the various stages of the battle, and the roles various soldiers played. It ends with a fantastic video titled “They Walk With You.” This video is incredibly moving, and illustrates the incredible hardships these men had to go through. I would highly recommend visiting this museum, and the beach, to any Canadian who wants to have a better understanding of this massive aspect of our heritage.

Posted: 29/05/2014 4:57:47 PM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments

At the moment, I am attending the 2014 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, at Brock University in Ontario. This conference is the largest gathering of Canadian scholars, bringing “together academics, researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners to share findings, refine ideas, and build partnerships that will help shape the Canada of tomorrow” (Congress 2014). The best part about this conference for me has been the “Big Thinking” speakers whose aim is to transform, inspire and challenge listeners. For me, inspiration is everything; it is a must for teachers and students if meaningful learning and growth is to take place and so far the speakers have fulfilled their mission.

The first speaker, Lyse Doucet, is a BBC World News correspondent who grew up in a small town in New Brunswick and who has become an exceptional international reporter. Her topic title was “Borders Without Boundaries: Whose Stories Are Our?” She began her talk by asking two questions:

  1. How can we understand events that happen in places that are so different from our?
  2. Why should we care?

For me, theses questions are at the heart of Geography and History and ultimately her talk gave validity to what and how I teach. We all know that our country is multi-cultural through our past and present history; “those” places, the foreign/different places and the people who live in them, live in our country.

Lyse Doucet focused on Syria and Lybia and the conflicts that are presently impacting that part of the world. Her challenge was for us to open our eyes to the fact that these struggles are indeed “Ours” since the people impacted have wives, children, relatives and friends who make up the mosaic of Canada. After 30 years of working as a journalist, she feels privileged to see what she has seen, to share it with the world and add a Canadian voice and perspective to global crisis in an effort to break-down boundaries and humanize the struggles.

To listen to her talk, click on the following link. It is worth the time!

Posted: 25/05/2014 3:58:07 PM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments
On my summer trip through Toronto I missed a chance to visit Fort York, but I wasn't going to let that happen twice.

The Battle of York is a significant battle of the War of 1812. In the first year of the war British victories had given the colony the upper-hand, but early on the morning of April 27, 1813, the American army was about to change the odds.  Significantly out-numbered, and after six hours of fighting, the British retreated, but not before igniting the gunpowder magazine which held close to 500 barrels of gun powder. Supposedly the explosion was heard across Lake Ontario in Niagara, and its impact was a devastating blow killing Brigadier-General Zebulon Montgomery Pike, 38 soldiers and wounding 222 more. Nonetheless, the American's recovered and continued to march, taking over Fort York and several hours later the town of York.

My tour, which was part of a Jane's Walk celebration this weekend in Toronto, included an interesting discussion of the geographical and urban changes that have occurred around the fort.  It is difficult to tell, but 200 years ago, the fort lay on the shore of Lake Ontario. Now it is almost impossible to see the water even if you stand on the walls of the fort. Over 100 years of land-fill, railway lines, highways, industrial and condo building have obliterated the view.

It is also a miracle that Fort York has remained at all. Numerous times in its history, it has been threaten by urban transit expansion, namely the street car to the CNE grounds in the early 1900s and the Gardner Expressway in the late 1950s. The fort was saved thanks to a number of history lovers, including Pierre Burton. In 1959, Burton was a reporter for the Toronto Daily Star and he wrote a number of influential articles that alerted the public to the historical crisis. Thankfully the proposed route was changed and the expressway curved around the fort, leaving the oldest buildings in the city to survive.

The march of "progress" is a powerful force. We see it all over North America as the past is demolished and replaced by a new vision for the future. Call me biased, but I love the anchors of history and am grateful to anyone who remembers, protects and celebrates who we once were.
Posted: 06/05/2012 1:05:02 PM by JENNIFER JANZEN | with 0 comments
So if I go back in time to the early19th century, and I would jump at the chance if I could,  I have found a vocation - a printer!

This revelation came through my visit to William Lyon Mackenzie's home in downtown Toronto. Luckily there was a history-loving Toronto businessman who bought the home before it was torn down and it is now resorted to its 1859 glory. The home also holds a recreated 1850's printshop which dates to the time that Mackenzie was back in Canada from exile and was printing his paper The Toronto Weekly Message. The curator/printer who runs the press prints everything from the t-shirts in the gift shop to hand-bills making a visit to this shop a very authentic experience.

Mackenzie, was a significant mover and changer in Canadian politics. An advocate for those who had no voice, he attempted to expose problems with the government and attack the Family Compact. Needless to say he made enemies, was the leader of the Rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada, escaped, was in exile for 13 years, was pardoned, got himself back into politics and is the grandfather of one of Canada's greatest Prime Ministers, William Lyon Mackenzie King.  Here's to the underdog!

Back to my desire to be a printer. For newspaper owners, wives and daughters were free labour, hence the door to printing was open to women. As well, at the age of 10 - 12, children from large poor families might get a chance  at a 7 year apprenticeship in printing which was an excellent start to life. One had to read, upside down and backwards, but as a printer you were the first to read books that many would never set their eyes on. It was printers who first read Darwin's theories on evolution, the latest scientific journals, medical texts or books that were possibly banned by schools or churches. Needless to say, you received an first-rate self-taught education. 

Since the  metal type used to make papers back then were very small, one had to have tiny fingers and that's where women come in.  Girl's finger's stay smaller as they grow-up so this gave an opening to women in a printing profession whereas most professions at the time were forbidden to the gentler sex. Printers, because they were well-read, also tended to be more liberal and progressive, which was another reason for women in the profession. It was also a job to earn a considerable amount of money. If one were a talent artist, and could produce block art for the paper, one could make more with one picture than a house servant of Mackenzie's could make in a whole year.
It was messy, probably smelly, but a printer's life was also an intellectually and socially freeing career in the 1800's. Sign me up!
Posted: 05/05/2012 12:44:12 PM by JENNIFER JANZEN | with 0 comments

It has been a while since I've travelled but here I am again in the 'Big TO' because the War of 1812 fever is rising and I want in on the action.

Anyone who knows me, knows that the War of 1812 is my favorite war. Can I say that? I've always be enthralled with the events, people and the passion of that time way before the bicentennial commemorations have given a jolt to public memory. So in an effort to know more, I've come to Toronto, (or in a previous century ,the town of York).

One of my stops today was The Market Gallery which is in the St. Lawrence Market. The purpose of the exhibit is in its title: "Finding the Fallen: The Battle of York Remembered", which  is no small task after 200 years. But with meticulous research of public and private records from Canada, The United States and Britain, a substantial list was created and is now published in the book, A War of 1812 Book of Remembrance: York, Upper Canada 1812-1815.

The best part of the exhibit for me were the first-person accounts of the battle. Aside from the fact that I appreciate the by-gone eloquence of that time, I am likewise amused by the interpretations of these events by the opposing sides.

For example:

"Your brave son [Captain Neal McNeale] led his company to a part of the beach where some of the enemy's boats were to land, and leaping on the bank yelled out to his men: 'Now, King's Grenadiers, distinguish yourselves!'"
Robert McDoual, Captain, 8th (King's) Regiment of Foot, British Army, 4 August 1813.


"We went in boats and the read coats peppered a good many of us before we reeched the shore, but when we got footing they fled before us like an affrighted flock of red-winged boblinkons".
 Samuel Stubby, Corporal, Kentucky Militia, United States Army, 30 January 1815

Deciphering these accounts is to me the fun of 'doing' history. There is so much in the quotes that requires investigation and research to glean an understanding.

I also went to a very different exhibit, "1812-2012: A Contemporary Perspective" at the Harbourfront Centre. Here, five artists provided their understandings and point of view of this 200 year old conflict. The subtle depth of these works will keep me thinking for a while to come, which is not unlike the primary documents of the past. One can simplistically brush over them, but then you overlook the complexity and the mystery.

Everyone likes a good bonfire, so attention as also been given to the site of the  Parliament of York. I found the motto of the site, "Built-1797, Burned-1813, Back-2012" quite amusing.  The original resting place of the capital is now underneath a defunct Porsche dealership... I shake my head. But inside is a gem of an exhibit that tells  the tale of York and its eventual demise by the American forces, complete with first-hand accounts, artifacts and interpretation.

There is much to be learned in Old York, and I intend on giving it my best shot. More to come.  
Posted: 04/05/2012 11:04:57 PM by JENNIFER JANZEN | with 0 comments

What do we remember? What do we memorialize and teach? I think this was the theme of my last day in Washington. I always find it curious that so many people, events, inventions get forgotten, and yet some individuals and happenings are in constant view.

My day started with attending some of the many sessions at the NCSS conference. One that was quite exciting was called: "Expedition and Colonial 'America' 1776 in California - Juan Bautista de Anza". Who? Yes that was my first thought as well. American colonialization is dominated by the " East Coast pilgrims and Plymouth Rock" history and because this America myth is so strong, it over-shadows the explorers and adventures on the other side of the continent. Juan Bautista de Anza is one such forgotten man.

Using 200 - 300 year old trails, de Anza lead a group of 240 men, women and children to Alta California in order to establish the first colony for Spain in a place called el Rio San Francisco. Spain was attempting to secure more land in North America and keep the expansion of the Russians and English to a minimum. De Anza was successful in his mission and lead his group over 1600 miles with only one death during the 8 month journey. The 1776 Anza Expedition in large part, determined the history of California and many prominent families from those first 240 are represented in the street names, counties and landmarks throughout California. The history of the Spanish is one topic that I want to incorporate into my Canadian History class in order to show the aggressive competition of the colonial powers and their influence on the landscape and First Nations of North America - my attempt to "remember"!

The rest of my day was spent going to sessions and hunting through the exhibitors booths to find useful things for my classroom. An arduous task for sure! In the midst of this, I met a young man from Virgina who actually knew where Winnipeg was. The Jets have made Winnipeg noteworthy again and he could not stop talking about the fans and the excitement of the team. Who knew that hockey would change our history and geography.

My final adventure in Washington was a evening tour of famous monuments. I recommend seeing these architectural marvels at night because the contrast between the lit white buildings with a black backdrop is spectacular. The Lincoln Memorial acts as a beacon and one can see the 22 ft high president from far off; in contrast, the Korean war memorial with its 19 life-size statues at night brings chills to the back of your neck. My favourite memorial was the brand new Martin Luther King Jr. which was just completed in October. The stones of 'despair' and 'hope', combined with quotes and a massive statue of King himself was awe-inspiring. The city of Washington does a great job of remembering significant people and events of the past, immortalizing them in stone and displaying them for all to see. But it makes me wonder what treasures, large or small, lie hidden in the ground or in a dusty corner of one of the 19 buildings of the Smithsonian that one will never see.

Posted: 19/12/2011 4:37:18 PM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments

As I understood from one of the tour guides, Fort McHenry is sometimes mistaken for the Canadian Fort Henry. How curious! Now that I've been to both,  I can now compare them and there are some similarities and differences. I feel a class assignment coming on.

So after an hour or so train ride, I navigated my way to the city of Baltimore in order to visit another fort on my exploration of History.  Similarity no. 1;  My main interest in this site is that Fort McHenry is a major player in the War of 1812, just like Fort Henry. Similarity no. 2:  They are also the same in that like  all forts they have a garrison, officer's quarters, lots of cannons, powder magazine... I've been to so many forts now, I almost know where I'm going. It's quite comforting actually. Similarity no. 3: Both forts were vital to the protection of an important waterway, Fort Henry  the connection between Kingston and the West, for Fort McHenry a huge harbour of ships, dockyards and much coveted supplies.  On to the differences.

Difference no. 1: Obviously these two forts are on two different sides of the border! That's easy. Difference no. 2: Notoriety.  I believe that more American's are  more familiar with Fort McHenry due to the fact that it is tied to the national anthem. Francis Scott Key witnessed the battle from a truce ship on September 13th - 14th, and penned the "Star Spangled Banner" in the patriotic thrill of victory when the British were unable to defeat this fort. Unfortunately, I don't think many Canadians even know where Fort Henry is. Difference no. 3: Decisiveness.  The battle in 1814 between British and American forces at Fort McHenry was a turning point in the war, but Fort Henry had no such distinguishing battle.

Similarities and differences aside, both forts still provide Canadians and Americans alike an opportunity to study this war and its impact on our histories.  As well, I did notice a pattern coming to this fort...the number 13 is truly unlucky. Battle of the Plains of Abraham - Sept. 13th, Isaacs Brocks death - Oct. 13th, Battle at Fort McHenry - Sept. 13th - 14th. Seriously! That is too strange. I wonder if I can find some other crazy happenings on that date.

After the fort I returned to the Inner Harbour of Baltimore and toured the USS Constitution. What an amazing ship. It was built in 1854 and was a flag ship who's role was to intercept ships involved in the illegal slave trade and had a role in the American Civil War. It is perfectly preserved and you can scour all 4 decks. My favourite part of the ship was the captain's quarters. It has its own bath tub, toilet, private kitchen and a much better bed than all the hammocks that the poor sailors had to sleep in. Boys as young as 11 or 12 were allow to become part of the crew and were called "Powder Monkeys" because they were responsible to run quickly from the ships hold to the cannons to bring bags of gun powder amongst other jobs. Could you imagine a 12 year old boy that you know living on a ship for 3 years living with rough and tumble sailors and climbing to the top of the mast every morning to stay in shape? Wow. History does help us how capable the human spirit really is.    

Posted: 02/12/2011 8:39:35 PM by JENNIFER JANZEN | with 0 comments

Seeing the past from many different viewpoints is a large part of Historiography. Primary verses secondary sources, insiders verses outsiders, or Canadian verses American - these different perspectives give more depth and complexity to the past. So in light of seeing with a different set of History glasses, I am in Washington D.C. attending the NCSS (National Council of Social Studies) Conference. For 3 and a half days, I get to be a foreigner, and wander and wonder about the American angle.

My first order of business yesterday when I arrived was a walk to the White House. That was surreal. Washington images are so much a part of media and culture in Canada that it was hard to believe that I wasn't watching another movie about an American President. (There are so many!) To see the Washington monument, one only has to turn around; it towers in the near distance and in the cloudy winter sky, looked quite foreboding. All around, very cool.

Today I went to the Smithsonian Museum of American Art for a session on using art in the teaching of History. The session was very worthwhile. Using the VTS or Visual Thinking Strategies, we learned about the Stages of Aesthetic Development and what questions to ask to get kids thinking about art. There is a wealth of information about it on The best part of the session is that we got to tour the museum and discuss how to use the techniques with the amazing collection at the gallery.

After the session was over, I spent 3 hours wandering the halls looking at art and sculpture. I almost fainted when I turned a corner and saw the original portrait of Pocahontas from 1716. She was in England at the time, had an audience with the Royals and was a kind of celebrity. Unfortunately, she died a year later of a European disease. Close to this portrait was one of Queen Elizabeth I from 1558, another woman who influenced the exploration of North America, this time in order to circumvent the wealth that was flowing into Spain from the Americas. Two incredible women starring back at me.

So after a whole day in only one of the seventeen buildings of the Smithsonian, I'm nowhere near to seeing all I want to see. I guess I'll have to come back because tomorrow I'm off to Fort McHenry, where the famous "Star Spangled Banner" was inspired.

Posted: 01/12/2011 7:51:08 PM by JENNIFER JANZEN | with 0 comments


I've been to Edmonton, Calgary and am now on my way back to Winnipeg through Lethbridge. Although most historical sites are now closed for the season, I was able to find a few that survive through the fall and even the winter!

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is a site that I have heard about for a long time, but never have had a chance to visit. Like most people, I was mistaken about the meaning of this site's name. The history goes that a young boy wanted to be close to the action, so close in fact that he stood at the bottom of the cliff to feel the waterfall effect of bison jumping to their death. No doubt he felt the amazing power of that event, however,  he became trapped and killed by the beasts that had peaked his curiosity. When his body was finally found, his head has been crushed, and hence the name of the site; an honouring and warning to the future generations.

I couldn't have picked a better day to visit. The sky was a brilliant blue and the mixture of the clouds and the creamy golden yellow of the prairie was breath-taking. The prairies in my mind are just as beautiful as any other landscape, but the beauty is in the details.

The interpretive centre of this site is quite unique; built into the side of the escarpment gives one the feeling that they are part of the stratigraphy of history. I really enjoyed the perspective of the story-telling and the attention to the artifacts and primary documents that reveal the details of this important place in First Nations history.

As I continued on to Lethbridge, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Fort Whoop-Up was open! Another Fort! I love the comparisons I can make after seeing about 15 of them from Alberta to Nfld. The main purpose of this fort was to stop the illegal trading of alcohol by the Americans and create a stronger Canadian presence.

It is a well maintained museum and the self-guided tour through the different rooms was fascinating, except I got stuck. Clearly I would have died as a prairie pioneer because I failed to figure out the historical technology of locking and unlocking the doors. The rope and pulley system threw me off and at one point I thought I might be a goner. Luckily another friendly tourist showed me the "ropes" so to speak and I survived. 

The past really is "another country". I'm not sure my dream of time travelling would work out so well for me!  

Posted: 27/10/2011 5:11:09 PM by JENNIFER JANZEN | with 0 comments

I've had a great week in Calgary going to four different schools to see what history teachers are doing in their classrooms. What a treat. It felt like Christmas because each teacher gave me a gift. Whether it was new ways of teaching, great ideas or lesson plans, I was overwhelmed by their generosity.

The first school I visited was Calgary Science School. It is a charter school with some very unique attributes. For one, their superintendent's office is actually IN THE SCHOOL. Wow - how connected is that. I can't begin to discuss what a novel and wonderful way of having administration in touch with what is actually happening in the school. The other amazing thing about this school is that teachers have  four hours a week of joint teacher time, that is, working with a teacher who has the same classes to prep and prepare together. One of the teachers I met there, Neil Stephenson, has the position of collaborating with all of these teacher teams to help guide, direct and facilitate the school's mandate of inquiry-based learning and incorporating technology. Another teacher, Amy Park, a GG Award winner, loves the collaboration and the emphasis the school has toward empowering students and focusing on deep learning/understanding.

Day two was a switch to a private school, Rundle College. Here I met up with a friend I made from a summer institute in Ottawa a year ago.  Her grade 8 and 9 classes are exclusive users of the "ipad" which makes her class almost paperless. Another WOW. It makes historical research an integral part of every period. Since the week long work shop we attended was about Historical Thinking Concepts I was curious how she was incorporating them into her lessons. I could see the progress for myself! She mentioned that slowly, but surely, a more grounded understanding of the concepts are making their way into everything she does. Her lesson on, "Was the Silk Road the Internet Highway of the Ancient World?" was a perfect example of Historical Perspective, Evidence, and Continuity and Change.

Another school I visited was Hidden Valley where I met Chad Howie and Sarah Beech; they are both finalists for the GG Awards this year! Their work on the 7 Years War and the Battle of 1760 was unbelievable. From teaching the students marching to military tactics and then re-enacting the famous battle of the Plains of Abraham, I was impressed. Again collaboration is the key to their success, both using their different strengths and experiences. Chad is also a huge fan of Indiana Jones and combines this with his knowledge of archaeology to make his social studies classes full of adventure and mystery.

Finally, I made it to Vincent Massey Junior High to meet with Craig Harding. And again the theme was the same. Craig works with the two other social studies teachers to plan and develop integrated lessons to make their students thoughtful learners.The section on voyageurs takes up half the library of stations to teach the students about living in the past. At one station the student  study Francis Hopkins' paintings and compare them to journals of voyageurs to understand perspectives in history. 

I must say that my "To Do List" is ever growing and I will have a lot of organizing to do when I get home. Not to mention writing thank you notes to all the teachers who have given me so much to think about.  

Posted: 23/10/2011 8:42:39 PM by JENNIFER JANZEN | with 0 comments
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Jennifer Janzen

Jennifer Janzen is a history teacher at the University of Winnipeg Collegiate.

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