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Using Pictures to Read the Past

Student Handout

In this project, you will search for useful images on the Images Canada database from which to make reasoned generalizations about one or two aspects of life in Canada in the late 19th and the early 20th century. You will use information taken from these images to make a thematic poster.

Copyright / Credit

In all cases, when you reproduce an image from the Images Canada website the following information must appear with the image, in English and/or French, as part of the credit line. You can find this information by clicking on the "more information" link found directly below the thumbnail of the image. A record will appear that contains such necessary information as the name of the partner and unique ID number.

Credit line:

  • copyright symbol, ©, [name of partner as indicated in the "Source" field]
  • the unique ID number of the image
  • the statement, "Reproduced with permission from the [name of partner] website (URL)".

For example: © Canada Aviation Museum. Image # 21719. Reproduced with permission from the Canada Aviation Museum website (

A. Choose a theme. Some possibilities:

  • Homes
  • Transportation
  • Clothing
  • School
  • Work
  • Food (gathering, preparing, eating)
  • Leisure

Also decide which group you will investigate.

  • Pioneers
  • City Dwellers
  • First Nations, Métis, and/or Inuit

B. Brainstorm key words that will help you find images on the Images Canada website. For example:


lodge, house, building, tent, cabin

Brainstorm Table











The words you use in your brainstorm will produce many search results.

C. The next step is to select the images that seem most useful.

Remember! If you use an image from a photo taken on or after January 1, 1949, you must add the appropriate copyright notice. See examples below:
©Canadian Science and Technology Museum
© Glenbow Library and Archives

Hint: you can find the date and the image source institution (the copyright owner) by clicking on the More Information link under each image.

Here are some ways to help you choose images:

  • Is the picture clear?
  • Does it show what you are looking for?
  • Does it have a good amount of detail and useful information about the aspect of life you are investigating?
  • Consider the context: Is it a genuine depiction of real life or a romantic or unrealistic view? (Note that many pictures are posed. This is not necessarily bad, but it should be considered.)
  • Is the date of the image close to the date of other images you have chosen? (Much changed in a few years during this period.)
  • Does the image have a similar setting to other images you have chosen? Experiences might be very different in different regions -- between the Far North and the Maritimes, for example.

D. Make notes on the following:

  • Describe the focus of the image:
    • What is it?
    • What is happening in the image?
    • Are there people?
      • How many?
      • What are they doing?
      • How are they dressed?
      • Do they look rich, poor, or in-between?
      • What is their expression? Happy? Sad? Serious? Something else?
      • Why do you think they are in the picture?
      • Is there anything interesting about them?
    • If the focus is an object (or building or place), what does it look like?
      • What is it made of?
      • Why do think it was chosen for a picture?
      • Is there a technological aspect of the object that interests you?
  • Describe the setting:
    • Is it indoors or outside?
    • What objects, plants and animals do you see?
    • Why do you think they were included in the image?
  • Why do you think this picture was taken?
    • Was it to celebrate an event? (For example, a party or holiday.)
    • Was it to celebrate a family or person? (For example, a family portrait.)
    • Was it to celebrate success? (For example, a rich farm or business.)
    • Was it to show how life was? (For example, a work crew resting.)
  • Is this picture a real depiction of life at the time, or is there something about the picture that tells you that it is not? Is this important, and if so, why?

E. Based on all your pictures, can you now make any generalizations about the theme of your study? Consider, among other things:

  • Characteristics of the physical environment (and its effect on people)
  • Technology and its effects on people's relationship with the land
  • Roles and responsibilities of citizens in various groups in early Canada

For example:

Before the building of the railway, pioneers on the prairies travelled across the land using...
Many of the first homes built on the prairie were made from local materials like…

F. Finally, compare and contrast this aspect of life with your life today.

  • In what ways are things the same now?
  • In what ways are things different?

G. Prepare a poster or other artistic representation showing and describing this aspect of life in the late 19th and/or early 20th century. You might include:

  • Images with captions
  • Explanatory text
  • Your own poem or short story about what life would have been like

This representation may be presented to the class when completed.

Using Pictures to Read the Past | Student Handout | Assessment Criteria

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