Diaries of Early Canadians (Grade 1 – 3)



Division/Grade Level

Division I
Grade 1- 3

Time Frame

Allow up to three 40-minute classes

Lesson Overview

This lesson examines three historical diaries, those of Nicholas Garry, Anthony Henday and Alexander Henry. The lesson focuses on the detail and descriptive writing that may or may not be part of the diary. Students are required to consider the purpose of the diary, and to illustrate a day in the life of one of these men from our past.
This lesson may be adapted for older students (Grade 9) to fit with the Western Canadian Protocol English Language Arts. The students could examine the historical documents and then write their own account of an historical event in diary or journal format.


Students will understand the purpose of keeping a diary, and have an opportunity to examine the differences in how historical diaries relayed information. Students will understand the importance of using these historical documents to better understand the lifestyles and hardships faced by early Canadians.


Students will:

  1. analyze the interaction of humans with their environment and recognize similarities that have been experienced at different times and in different places;
  2. understand the value of a written record of events.


Students will:

  1. examine how personal experiences are presented in print media;
  2. experience text from a different genre;
  3. discuss how word choice and supporting details affect the purpose and audience;
  4. identify words that form mental images and create mood;
  5. present information and ideas using visual media;
  6. use tools and technology to accomplish given tasks.


Students will:

  1. be encouraged to develop an appreciation of the contribution of individuals and events to the development of Canada;
  2. be encouraged to develop an appreciation of how stories of the past connect them to the present.

Curricular Connections

Social Studies
Language Arts

New Vocabulary


Peel Prairie Portal Resource Materials

Other Resource Materials

Diary of a Student handout

Developing the Lesson:

Introduction or Opening Activity

The teacher will begin class by reading a short “imaginary” diary entry of the previous school day. Use the sample or generate your own diary entry. Ask the students to close their eyes and picture the day as it unfolds. After reading the two different accounts, ask the following questions:

  • Which account of October 18 did you prefer? Why?
  • What were you able to see in your mind as you listened to the sentences?
  • Could you hear any sounds? What were they?
  • Which person did a better job of describing his day? Joey (the first boy) or Ahmed (the second boy)?
  • What do you think the purpose of a diary is?
  • When you read someone else’s diary, what does it tell you?
  • Imagine that many years from now Ahmed and Joey’s descendants (grandchildren perhaps) were reading their diaries. Whose diary would be more interesting to read? Why?

Purpose of the Lesson

The lesson today will provide the students with a chance to listen to and read actual diary entries of explorers and fur traders who travelled through Canada in the 1700s and 1800s. We want to look at the differences in the way the men wrote about their days. As we read and listen we will draw pictures in our minds.

Presentation of New Material

The students should each have access to a computer terminal or be seated in a room with a projector. Older students could proceed through the various web pages with minimal guidance. Younger children will need to listen to the accounts as originally written.

Bring a diary up on the computer screen by clicking on a link below. While it is possible to read through all the pages of these diaries, this may be somewhat time consuming. The teacher may wish to focus on any of the following segments.

Nicholas Garry kept a diary as he left England bound for America and then Canada. He was later to become a director with the Hudson’s Bay Company. His diary begins on March 30, 1821.

  • Page 76: Examine the first few days of Nicholas Garry’s trip. Why would these entries focus on the wind?
  • Page 77: Food and companions on the ship
  • Page 83: Description of New York City
  • Page 89: Dinner engagements
  • Page 90: Birch bark canoes
  • Page 91: Description of Montreal
  • Page 93: Canoe
  • Page 95: Mosquitoes

Alexander Henry kept a diary as he travelled through the Red River Valley beginning in July 1800. This particular document is a synopsis of his actual diary, but may be used for a few brief accounts.

  • Page 7: Tobogganing on the banks of the Red River
  • Page 8: Buffalo floating in the river

Anthony Henday (Hendry) travelled from York Factory to the South Saskatchewan river basin, a journey of over 1000 miles. He started off in June 1754, and returned in June of 1755.

  • Page 321: Begin with a look at Footnote 1 regarding the proper spelling of the name of this explorer.
  • Page 322, 323: Read the entries for early July. What is common about them? What seems to be the most important thing every day? Why would it seem important to give the details about paddling?
  • Page 332, 333: September 10 and 14
  • Page 337: October 14 and 15
  • Page 341: November 1 – 13
  • Page 349: April 27 (mosquitoes)

Check for Understanding

Once the students have examined the different diary entries, it is important to examine the differences in how the travels were documented. The students should see the very brief nature of Henday's account versus the details of Nicholas Garry. What could account for the differences? What is similar about the diaries? Compare mosquito stories. Discuss the imagery contained in Garry’s writings.

Independent Practice

After examining the diaries, the students should choose any one of the daily accounts which most appeals to them. A number of different methods could be used to have the students capture the day as they picture it in their minds. Distribute paper and crayons or pastels, or prepare materials for poster paint or water paint. As an extension to this activity, the teacher may wish to have the students make their own paints using natural materials such as berries.
Alternatively, students use a draw program such as Kidpix to complete this assignment.

If the teacher prefers, the students could be directed to choose from one or two possible diary entries.

Closing Activity

Students may be invited to share their pictures with the class or in small groups. Pictures may be posted on the bulletin board, with the accompanying text as printed from the original documents.


The teacher may wish to evaluate based on the details present in the illustration.

Follow-Up Activities

This lesson lends itself to the use of a slideshow presentation. If the class has used a draw program to complete this assignment, the drawings could be placed in the order in which they happened (according to the dates indicated in the diary) and a slideshow could be produced.

In classrooms where the work was done with crayon the pictures could be scanned and placed in sequence.

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