Tag Archives: critical thinking

grade 9 geo takes to the streets

Now that classes are over, I’ve been taking more time to ride my bike and wander around Toronto’s vibrant neighbourhoods. Thanks to the creativity and critical thinking of my grade nine students, I’ve been seeing the streets that I’ve roamed for years through a new lens.

Spadina Remix - then and Now by AldenC on Flickr

The final summative for my Geography class was a neighbourhood field study. Students had to conduct field research as well as traditional research exploring an issue of their choice within a Toronto neighbourhood. They had to write an individual research paper and present a creative group oral presentation.

In groups, the students chose a neighbourhood in Toronto – the only limiting factor was that they could not choose an area that any of their group members live in.  Each student chose an issue in their neighbourhood, asked a question and came up with a thesis  which they supported with demographic evidence from the City of Toronto’s neighbourhood profiles as well as qualitative evidence from their field study and support from sources including Toronto newspapers, real estate boards, and local blogs like spacing and Torontoist.

Questions ranged from “Does the name ‘Little Italy’ accurately represent the culture of the neighbourhood?” to “Why are homes in Forest Hill so much more expensive than similar homes in the suburbs?” to “What kind of person would want to live on the Island?” One students studied the demographics of the waterfront condo-land, asking, “Why is the population of the Harbourfront community growing so rapidly despite a  low birthrate?” I encouraged a student to look at a contemporary issue, and she ended up researching the new Bixi program and hypothesize about its success and its potential impact on tourism, commerce, and transportation in her neighbourhood.

When I was in high school, a flashy presentation involved funny hats & ties and maybe – maybe – a neon bristol board sign. Today, you ask grade nine students to do an oral presentation, and you get a full on travelogue. I was very impressed with some of the presentations! One group studied Queen St. W. and wrote a song, accompanied by a music video showcasing the neighbourhood’s attractions. This group, who studied Cabbagetown/Regent Park conducted interviews with locals, discussing issues like safety, gentrification, and the preservation of heritage homes:

This summative was a great way to get students out of their own bubble and onto the streets of Toronto. It forced them to pay closer attention to the stores, parks, hospitals, homes, and sidewalks of their city. Students gained an appreciation for the planning that goes into a neighbourhood, and for the multitude of factors and stakeholders  that work together to make a neighbourhood safe, clean, vibrant and liveable. So now when I wander these streets, I find myself counting doctors’ offices, looking for available parking, and scanning signage for languages other than English. It’s true – teachers really do learn from their students!

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Lesson Plan: The Ward – from Slum to City Hall

Few Torontonians today know that the location of our current City Hall was once an overcrowded slum known as “The Ward.” In the early decades of the 20th Century,  the area bordered by College, Queen, Yonge, and University was Toronto’s worst slum, a landing pad for the poor immigrants who worked to build this city.

The district was a jumbled mix of  family homes, rooming houses, small businesses, and restaurants. The Eaton’s factory and annex was at the South-East end of The Ward and employed many of The Ward’s residents. Landlords took advantage of peoples’ desperation, and rents were higher than most of the inhabitants’ wages, forcing extended families to cohabit and take in boarders. Sometimes the Health Department would condemn a property, but because demand was so high and the Department didn’t have the resources to follow-up, the landlord would soon rent the space out again without bringing it up to standard.

In 1913, Toronto General Hospital razed part of The Ward to construct a large, new hospital.  At this time, according to a report by Charles Hastings, head of the Department of Helath, there were over 3,000 households in The Ward, most of which were occupied by 2-6 families.

The inhabitants of the ward in the early 20th Century were immigrants mainly from Italy and Eastern European countries. The largest group living in The Ward were European Jews who immigrated between 1890-19320.  By the mid-1930’s, The Ward had become Toronto’s first Chinatown.

1913: A gril stands on Elizabeth Street, view of Old City Hall in teh background

A View of Old City Hall from 21 Elizabeth Street, May 15, 1913 (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Subseries 32, Item 187)

Lesson Plan Overview

I designed this lesson plan, for a Grade 10 Canadian History course, as an assignment for my OISE History class, around the critical question: Was living in the city worth it at this time?

In this lesson, students will discover what it was like to live in a Canadian city around the time of World War I. They will uncover the push and pull factors that brought various groups to Canadian cities, and the social and technological factors that allowed cities to sustain population growth during this period. Students will learn about “The Ward,” a notorious Toronto slum, through an examination of primary and secondary sources. Finally, by looking at Canadian urban life from different perspectives, students will judge whether the benefits of living in Canadian cities outweighed the challenges.

The complete lesson plan and a slideshow of primary documents (photographs, newspaper articles and other ephemera) are available as PDF’s for download here:  Growth of Canadian CitiesGrowth of Canadian Cities – Primary Documents.