Exploring Confederation Developed By

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Exploring Confederation

Developed By

Suggested Length

Suggested Grade Level(s)

Subject Areas

Elizabeth Wendt

Lessons #1, #3: Two 80 minute classes

Lesson #2: Three+ 80 minute classes

Lesson #4: Five+ 80 minute classes

10, 11

Social Studies, Visual Arts, Language Arts


These lessons will explore issues of Confederation and the how ideas have changed, in the 21st century, regarding the meaning of Confederation.

Links to Curriculum Outcomes

Students will (be expected to)

  • analyse and compare events of the past to the present in order to make informed, creative decisions about issues (Social Studies)

  • analyse cases and personal values regarding stereotyping, discrimination, and conformity and how they affect individuals and groups (Social Studies)

  • use visual arts as a means of conveying concerns about social and ethical issues (Visual Arts)

  • use writing and other ways of representing to extend, explore and reflect on their experiences with and insights into challenging texts and issues (Language Arts)

Links to Telling Stories: Themes / Key Words

  • Confederation

  • Art as source of historical information

  • Gender: Where are the women’s stories?

Art Works

  • Original Sketch For Fathers of Confederation, 1883, Robert Harris, CAG H-60

  • Preparatory Drawing For The Fathers of Confederation, 1883, Robert Harris, CAG H-1724

  • Studies for The Fathers of Confederation, Robert Harris, CAG H-79, CAG H-1297

  • Study For The Fathers of Confederation: Sir John A. MacDonald, Robert Harris, CAG H-8122

  • Photograph of the Original Painting of the Fathers of Confederation done by Harris, artist unknown, CAG H-206

  • The Fathers of Confederation, print of photo, CAG H-2210

  • The Fathers of Confederation, photograph, artist unknown, CAG H-1910 a, b, c

  • Key To The Figures in The Fathers of Confederation, drawing, 1884, Robert Harris, CAG H-1722

  • Key To The Figures in The Fathers of Confederation, c.1916, drawing, Robert Harris, CAG H-1444

Lesson #1: Towards Confederation

Objective Students will discuss and research the reasons underlying the birth of Confederation.


    • paper

    • pencil


      1. Have students view the study for Robert Harris’ painting The Fathers of Confederation, CAG H-79 and the photograph of the final painting destroyed in the fire at Parliament Hill, CAG H-206.

      1. In a whole class discussion, have students respond to the following questions:

                • What is going on in the painting?

                • Where is the event taking place?

                • When did this event occur?

                • What were reasons underlying the move towards Confederation?

                • Why is this painting significant?

                • Ask students if they can identify any of the individuals in the image.

      1. Have students view Harris’ drawing CAG H-1722 (a rough sketch for the Fathers of Confederation painting - provides a key to the identities of each figure).

      1. Organize students in small groups and assign one province to each group. Each group will research the assigned province and provide the following information:

                • Who were the most influential individuals representing the assigned province?

                • When did this province enter Confederation?

                • What were the reasons the province entered Confederation?

                • What contributions did this province make to Canada?

      1. Each group can present their findings to the class in the form of a Power Point Presentation.

Computer Option

        • Key words: Confederation, Fathers of Confederation

        • See websites in Resource list below.

Ideas for Assessment

Organize a debate for and against Confederation.

Play “Who am I?”. Each student must identify the famous Father whose name is attached to his / her back using questions with yes / no answers.

Lesson #2: In the Picture

Objective Students will research the views and concerns of the Fathers of Confederation and perform monologues outlining these views and concerns within a larger tableau.

Related Art Work(s)

  • See Lesson #1


        • paper

        • pencil

        • period costumes

        • support for a mural (paper or canvas) optional

        • tempera or acrylic paint (optional)

        • brushes (optional)

        • props (tables, chairs, miscellaneous items)


          1. Have students view the works from Lesson #1. Explain to students that they will be creating a tableau and performing monologues using Harris’ painting The Fathers of Confederation as inspiration.

          1. Working individually or in pairs, have students research the most important individual(s) from each province who contributed to Confederation. The National Library of Canada website is a good source of information. Include all the founding fathers of Canada and not just the Fathers from 1864-1867 (e.g., Joey Smallwood and Paul Okalik)

          1. Have students write a short speech or monologue outlining the individual’s views and concerns. Invite a drama teacher or student actor to provide tips for how to perform a monologue.

          1. Work with school art and drama departments to reproduce the background in the Harris’ Fathers of Confederation. Have students paint a mural in tempera paint on paper or in acrylic paint on canvas. (optional) Encourage students to perform in period dress. The school drama department and local theatre companies might loan costumes. Using the painting as a reference, gather the appropriate props.

Students will form a tableau in costume, with the mural in the

background (optional).
Each student will come to the front of the room to perform his or her monologue.

Computer Option

  • See websites in Suggested Resources below.

Ideas for Assessment

Video tape the performance and make anecdotal comments from observation.

Create a rubric or a checklist from criteria presented to students at the beginning of the activity (preparation, research, communication skills, etc.)

Lesson #3: Out of The Picture, or Where Are the Mothers?

Objective Students will investigate how attitudes have changed regarding governmental representation. They will create a document that outlines a vision of Canada that includes the voices of all people.

Related Art Work(s)

  • The Fathers of Confederation, Robert Harris, CAG H-76


        • paper

        • pencil


                  1. Have students view CAG H-76. Ask them the following questions:

  • Who is missing from this painting? ( women, First Nations people, visible minorities, the working class, etc.)

  • From what social class did most of the Fathers originate?

  • How has representation in government changed since Confederation?

                  1. Ask students to research the role of women in government at the time of Confederation and answer the following questions:

  • How have their roles changed over the past 140 years?

  • How have they remained the same?

  • Did they have the right to vote in the 1860s?

  • What are their rights now?

  • How do you envision a Canada of the future that includes the rights of all people?

                  1. Invite a female politician to speak about the role of women in the government.

                  1. Have students examine representation in the local government.

  • Is it fair?

  • Is there room for improvement?

  • What changes would you make?

                  1. Talk to Women’s advocacy groups to further understanding of the needs and rights of women. Students might compare the Canadian system to that of Iceland where women have equal representation.

Computer Option

            • Key words: Confederation and the role of women

  • See Suggested Resources below.

Ideas for Assessment

Have students write a short essay outlining the needs and rights of all Canadians in the twenty first century.

Lesson #4: Metamorphosis of an Idea

Objective Students will transform Harris’ The Fathers of Confederation and bring it into the 21st century.


            • variety of drawing materials

            • watercolour and / or pastels

            • acrylic paint

            • sketching paper

            • support for a large mural (heavy stock paper, canvas and wood frame)


              1. Introduce students to all the referenced art works above. Ask students the following questions:

                • What is the connection among these works?

                • Why did Harris produce so many similar drawings and paintings?

                • What medium did Harris use for each one?

              1. Discuss how artists such as Harris work through an idea, creating sketches and preparatory drawings and paintings before completing the final work.

              1. Explain to students that they are going to modernize the Fathers of Confederation. Using sketches and preparatory drawings, they will create their version of the Fathers with paintings of Canadian men and women who have made important contributions to Canadian culture. Also, they will create a modern context for the background.

              1. Alternatively, they could clothe the Fathers in contemporary fashions and transform the background and props accordingly (potential for humour here).

Assign one or two students to each Father. Stress the importance of planning, recording, and working together as a group to bring it all together.

Ideas for Assessment

Encourage students to keep a visual log or journal that documents their progress.

Suggested Resources

  • Art Synectics: Stimulating Creativity in Art, Nicholas Roukes, Davis Publications

  • http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/2/18/index-e.html

  • http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/confederation/kids/index-e.html two websites from the National Library of Canada dealing with Confederation.

  • There are numerous films available through The National Film Board including:

  • Canada’s First Woman MP, 1986, 12 min

  • Notable Canadians, 1996, 40 min

  • John A. MacDonald: The Impossible Idea, 1961, 27 min

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