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The Canadian Ribbon of Steel



Division/Grade Level

Division III
Grade 7 – 9

Time Frame

Allow at least five 40-minute classes.

Lesson Overview

The construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway was a significant event in Canadian history. Students will use Peel Primary source materials and will identify the main reasons for the development of the Canadian railway. They will present this information on a student created web page. It should be noted that there are presently no Peel primary sources that examine the contributions of the Chinese workers during the construction of the railway. The teacher should choose appropriate resources or direct their students to an appropriate online source.


Students will learn of the significance of the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway to the settlement of the Canadian West. New learning will be presented in webpage format incorporating technology outcomes.


Students will:

  1. explain the reasons for the development of the railway;
  2. understand how the railway helped prepare the west for settlers;
  3. understand the contributions of the Chinese workers during the construction of the railway;
  4. describe the impact of the railway upon Canadians.


Students will:

  1. develop the ability to distinguish fact from opinion;
  2. analyze historical issues to form an opinion;
  3. communicate with others using a multimedia presentation;
  4. summarize the key events of a historical time period;
  5. use dates and events to establish a concept of time;
  6. use and incorporate historical maps into a presentation.


Students will:

  1. be encouraged to develop an appreciation for the effects (both positive and negative) of the railway on the development of Western Canada.

Curricular Connections

Social Studies
Language Arts

New Vocabulary

Chinese coolies

Peel Prairie Portal Resource Materials

Other Resource Materials

Railways & Immigration in Canada ( – Alberta Education)
Atlas of Alberta Railways (University of Alberta Press)
Classroom textbooks
Canadian Encyclopedia
Adventures in Canadian History. Canada moves West. McClelland & Stewart Inc. Toronto, Ontario.

Developing the Lesson

Introduction or Opening Activity

Begin this topic with a discussion of the vastness of our country. Discuss the difficulties in creating a “union," a sense of “oneness” in a country as vast as ours.
Our Canadian forefathers had many reasons for pushing ahead with the creation of a national railway, a ribbon of steel that would extend from coast to coast.

  • Ask the students to brainstorm possible reasons for the creation of the CPR.
  • Ask the students to brainstorm possible difficulties that would be encountered during the construction of a railway to the West.
  • Does the building of the railway sound like a simple matter?

Purpose of the Lesson

Students will research primary source materials and learn about the development of the Canadian Pacific Railway. They will come to understand the reasons for the building of the railway and how this was a significant event in Canadian history. The students will develop a web page that will highlight the most important parts of the development of the railway.

Presentation of New Material

It is suggested that part of the first lesson allow a brief examination of the Peel Prairie Portal (especially if this is the first time the students have used these resources). Show how the search engine works, and how you can retrieve information by entering different categories or themes.

Demonstrate by entering "CPR" in the title category. Then enter "railroad" in the keyword category. Look at the different articles that appear when different categories or words are entered.

Tell the students that they will be given the titles and links for this assignment, but that there are more documents that could be used for further investigation if someone were interested in this.

Check for Understanding

It is suggested that the students work in same sex pairs for this assignment. Direct the students to the URLs that are identified at the beginning of this lesson. Their task is to work through the different documents looking for answers to the following questions.

  • What circumstances initiated the creation of a pan-Canadian railroad?
  • Why was there a desire to create the railroad?
  • What were some of the problems encountered?
  • What were the results and comments of those who travelled the railway line?

While doing this research the students should be keeping brief notes on a graphic organizer. These notes will be essential for their webpages. IF any direct quotes are used the students MUST indicate the reference title, author and page number.

Independent Practice

Instruct students to create a webpage that highlights the reasons for the creation of the railroad, problems encountered, results and comments of those who travelled the railway line. Maps, drawings and photographs may be captured from Peel resources or by scanning textbooks. The challenge in this activity is to reduce the information gathered in research to the most pertinent or interesting facts that will contribute to the interest of the web page.

Closing Activity

Have the students show their web pages to the class. They may wish to explain what they chose to include on the page, and why they included it.


Evaluation may be done on research skills and/or the technology skills.

Follow-Up Activities

Adventures in Canadian History, Canada moves West is a series of books written by Pierre Berton for pre-teens and teenage readers. It may be interesting to have the students read some of this series while working on the research component of this lesson.

Stronger students could be encouraged to read The Last Spike or The National Dream: the great railway, 1871-1881. The teacher may wish to show portions of the video series The National Dream: building the impossible railway. (Produced by James Murray; directed by Eric Till and James Murray. Published: Toronto : CBC Enterprises, c1990. Description: 8 videocassettes.)

By E.A. Keith and S.J. Whyte