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Historical Thinking
Lesson 2: The layers of time in this collection

Note: Many of the websites linked in these lessons are only available in English.

Suggested Level:  Grades 11, 12, and undergraduate

Suggested Time: 1.5 hours

Description of Lesson 2:

In this task, students will put the concepts of historical significance, primary source evidence and identifying continuity and change into practice by engaging with the multi-temporality of What They Can Teach Us.

Lesson 2 : The Layers of Time in What They Can Teach Us

Activity 1: In class, discuss the multi-layered temporality of this collection. (Activate)

These interviews deal with the events and experiences of the four women’s lives in the 1950s and 1960s when they were in their 20s, 30s and 40s. They remember these events during the recording of these interviews in 1993. At that point, they were elderly women speaking to a young academic. We transcribed, edited and compiled this collection from 2021 to 2023 and you are reading these transcripts and listening to these interviews in your own present time. Let that sink in!

Activity 2: Historical Significance (Acquire)

Ask the students these questions:

  • What is the historical significance of these oral histories? What was historically significant according to the interviewer? And the interviewees? 

Clue: Take a close look to the questions that the interviewer asks, what themes come up? Do the same for the interviewees' responses.

  • What criteria do you use to say something is historically significant?

  • How might a person listening/reading these interviews in 1993, shortly after they were recorded, understand them and relate to them differently than you today?

  • What marking historical events happened in the Canadian society between 1950 and 1993?  

Clues: 1952: First Nations Gain Right to Vote in Manitoba

1960: Canadian Bill of Rights approved

1969: Montréal Women Take to the Streets to protest the city’s ban on public protest

 1980: first Québec Referendum

1990: the Oka Crisis

(There are obviously more marking events that happened, these are a few examples)

  • What marking historical events happened in the Canadian society between 1993 and today?

Clues: 1995 Ipperwash crisis

1995: Second referendum on Quebec independence (50.58% to remain in Canada)

2005: legalization of same-sex marriage

2008: TRC is established

2012: protests in Quebec to oppose increase in tuition fees “printemps érable”

2020: COVID-19 pandemic begins

2022: Canada supports Ukraine against the Russian invasion

(These are just a few examples)

Helpful web pages: 

Women's Suffrage

Significant Events in Canadian History


Activity 3: Primary Source Evidence (Acquire)

Introduce the second concept, primary source evidence

  • What is the difference between a primary source and a secondary source?   This video can help explain the difference

  • Are the interviews in What They Can Teach Us primary or secondary sources?

(Answer: primary)

Activity 4: Historical times (Apply)

We encourage you here to play the audio while the students read the transcript. This passage starts at 00:03:50.

In the passage L.1.2.a from Lisa’s interview, find one clue that hints at a historical time before 1950, three clues that hint at a historical time between 1950 and 1980, and two clues that hint at the “present” of the interview (1993).



Before 1950: “So, I left in one of these old Kaiser boats, the Kaiser had built for transporting troops to Europe…”  

Follow-up questions: What were Kaiser boats (or ships)? What could she be referencing here?  Why does Lisa reference them here? What conclusions can you draw here from using primary source evidence?

Clues: This is an excellent example of doing basic primary source evaluation. This statement can mean one of at least four things, and you and your class can discuss which is more likely (we cannot provide you an answer, and we do not know ourselves). Here Lisa might be referencing:

  1. The Kaiserboote fleet. These are four sister ships: SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, SS Kronprinz Wilhelm, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Kronprinzessin Cecilie. They were built between 1897 and 1906. It is likely to be this option, because they were all taken out of commission before 1940. Source

  2. US cargo ships built during WWII by Kaiser industries,  which were still being used for trans-Atlantic shipping in the 1950s. However, we could not find any information about these ships being used to transport passengers. Source

  3. A metaphorical sense, where Lisa was or was not aware of 1 or 2, but did not refer to either directly; instead she used reference to the Kaiser as a way to convey the old age and presumably deteriorated state of the boat on which she came.

  4. A mistake by the interviewee, where she believed she was on one of the old Kaiserboote (perhaps someone told her and she believed it or she somehow came to this memory during the interview). 

You can use this analysis and discussion to bridge to the use of primary sources later in this lesson (Activity 5).


1) “So, I arrived in November 1951 in Halifax. Became a landed immigrant in Halifax and from there we went by train across Canada, in the very old trains.”

Follow-up question: When did Canada open immigration from Germany after WWII?

→1950 Source


2) ““I wonder if I ever see home again.” [laughs] At that time it took you almost ten, twelve days to get across the country, the trains were very slow, you see […] And with the boat too, it took us twelve days to go by boat.”

Follow-up question: How long would it take today to go from Germany to Halifax? And from Halifax to Vancouver?


3) “And the old immigration building — it’s not there anymore, it’s right beside the Trade and Convention Centre, that’s where it used to be”

Follow-up questions: Where exactly was the immigration building in Vancouver? When was is demolished?

→Coal Harbour, Vancouver. It was built in 1914 and demolished in 1976. Today, the Convention Centre stands on its place. Source



1) “I mean today it takes you about five days, only half that long.”

Follow-up question: In the 1990s, what was the most common way of travelling from Europe? And from one Canadian coast to the other?


2) “Now you take the Queen Elizabeth and you are over in five days.”

Follow-up question: What to is the "Queen Elizabeth" referring here? 

→“Queen Elizabeth 2 is a retired British ocean liner converted into a floating hotel. Originally built for the Cunard Line, the ship, named as the second ship named Queen Elizabeth, was operated by Cunard as both a transatlantic liner and a cruise ship from 1969 to 2008. She was then laid up until converted and since 18 April 2018 has been operating as a floating hotel in Dubai.” Source



Activity 5: Working with Primary Source Evidence (Apply)


In the same passage, Lisa tells Alexander:

 “ [...] of course in Canada you tear down all Heritage buildings, that’s a real sad thing, you know; they should have really been kept, because I mean there were thousands of people, (particularly after war) that went through it with a lot of -- memories. And sometimes I think it would be nice if I could go to this building and could have a look and say, “My God, this is where I landed.” You see, this is part of life today. Europe is much better in this. Canada it’s just so easy, “Oh, for a buck, get rid of it.”


A) Keeping the description of the concept of primary source evidence in mind, can Lisa’s statement alone be taken as historical fact?  

Answer: No. Here, we encourage you to discuss the difference between facts and personal belief. You can link this to the discussion on the Kaiserboote from the follow-up questions in Activity 4.

B) What would we need to be able to set this primary source in its “historical [context] and make inferences from [it] to help us understand more about what was going on when [it was] created”? (Historical Thinking Project)

Answer: We suggest to discuss how the social and cultural norms might have changed since the time of the interview and list other historical events of the time that can help better understand this interview. With your students, discuss how these might have shaped the interviewee's memory.


C) Does Canada have a federal policy/statute to preserve its heritage buildings?

Answer: No, Canada is the only G7 country without a federal statute to protect is heritage buildings, however each province has their own policies for heritage buildings and façades source and source.


D) Does Germany have a federal policy to preserve its heritage buildings? 

Answer: “Resulting from the federal system of Germany, there are 16 heritage protection acts, one in each of the German Federal States”  -If you would like to read more about this: Source.

Quapp, Ulrike & Holschemacher, Klaus. (2020). Heritage Protection Regulations in Germany and their Relations to Fire Safety Demands. IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering.    



Activity 6: Class-discussion (Reflect)

With the analysis of the excerpt L.1.2.a in activities 4 and 5, lead a discussion around the questions below. The students are encouraged to present their answers to the class and provide examples using what they have learned about historical thinking (historical significance, primary source evidence).

Discussion questions: 

A) What can you tell about first-hand accounts and their relation to the larger understanding of history?


With the two following questions, the students are encouraged to engage with the concept of continuity and change.

B) How do the multiple layers of temporality of this excerpt (1950s/1990s/today) affect your perception of history? Of women’s role in society? Of the type of language used?

C) Your perception and understanding of the world is affected by the current socio-cultural context. How do your "today goggles" affect your understanding of the stories told over thirty years ago, about events that happened 60 to 70 years ago?

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