Category Archives: MysteryQuests

Religious Conflict and the Search for Historical Explanations

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A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 16-18

Introduction

Early in the morning of February 4, 1880, five members of an Irish immigrant family were murdered in rural southwestern Ontario, allegedly by an armed band of vigilantes from the community. No one was ever convicted of these crimes. While “Who did it?” is the most obvious question here, in an important sense the real mystery is why these crimes happened at all and how we should understand them now.

The Task

In this MysteryQuest, you are invited to take on the role of advisor to a team of historians beginning research on the Donnelly massacre of 1880 in Biddulph Township. You have been asked to examine selected primary and secondary documents for evidence to support one of the key theories about the reasons behind the massacre: it was the result of religious hatred among Irish immigrants who settled the township in the nineteenth century. First, you will be introduced to the idea of causal explanations in history. Then, you will be introduced to the Donnelly massacre and to the three main theories for the conflict. Working individually or with a partner you will examine five historical documents, looking for evidence of religious conflict. You will then prepare a 250-word report for the historians that summarizes the evidence and offers your own conclusion about whether there is enough evidence of religious conflict to proceed with a more detailed search for evidence of this explanation.

continue investigation …

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What Caused Herbert Norman to Take his Life?

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A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 16 to 18

Introduction

For many people it is hard to imagine the deep psychological and physical harm that resulted from the Cold War. Just as the idea of terrorism generates public fear in a post-9/11 world, the idea of communism after World War II had a similar terrifying effect. This widespread nervousness created a climate were almost anyone – from ordinary citizen to high-placed public figure – might be suspected of aiding the enemy. The simple accusation of sympathy for communism could ruin personal lives and careers. This is evident in the case of Herbert Norman, a distinguished Canadian diplomat serving as the Canadian Ambassador in Egypt in 1957. After writing a note reaffirming his innocence of wrongdoing, Norman committed suicide by stepping backwards off the roof of a seven story building in Cairo.

For years Norman had served Canada in high-level diplomatic positions around the world, and his colleagues believed that his loyalty to Canada was indisputable. Yet, a U.S. Senate committee released information that Norman had been, or was still, a communist even though the RCMP had cleared Norman of similar allegations years earlier. Some of his critics maintained that Norman’s suicide was an indication of his guilt. Many of his supporters believed that Norman was convinced that the allegations would never stop and that ending his life was his only option. Others believed that by ending his life, Norman would not have to reveal the names of political figures who happen to be Communist sympathizers. What part, if any, did these reasons play in Norman’s decision to step off that roof in Cairo?

The Task

In this MysteryQuest, you will consider three possible factors in Norman’s decision to end his life: personal guilt for wrongdoing, despair over a destroyed reputation, and a desire to protect others from exposure and harm. Before determining the relative importance of each factor, you will need to find out more about Norman’s career and the political atmosphere at the time. After clarifying your understanding of these theories, you will examine various documents. Your task is to identify relevant statements from the documents and indicate how these may support or challenge one or more of the three theories. Finally, you will summarize the main pieces of evidence for each theory and decide which is the most plausible theory and which is the least plausible theory.

continue investigation …

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Was Jerome Mistreated?

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A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 16–18

Introduction

On September 8, 1863, a man whose legs had been cut off at the knees was found on the beach of Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia. He had no identity papers, money, or belongings, and didn’t speak. Unable to look after himself, Jerome was taken in and cared for by local Acadians. He spent the rest of his life almost in silence. Many rumours developed about this mystery man and his origins. These theories — ranging from the believable to the unbelievable — were transformed into a widely-told Maritime legend.

In the late 19th century, people who couldn’t talk or were physically handicapped were not believed to be normal, and were often labeled as “idiots” or “lunatics.” Most were put into institutions (long-term care hospitals). Because Jerome wasn’t normal — he didn’t speak, had unexplained fits of anger, and had no legs — he was feared by many and became a public curiosity.

What can we learn about the treatment of the mentally ill at this time? What can we learn about how Jerome was treated? How typical for that time was the treatment Jerome received? Was it consistent with the standards prevailing at that time?

The Task

In this MysteryQuest, you are invited to judge whether the way Jerome was treated was typical of the level of care given to other people deemed “not normal.”

First, you will learn more about the treatment of the mentally ill (e.g., living conditions, medical treatment, opportunities for recreation). Next, you will look for evidence of how Jerome was treated by the community and his adopted families. Based on this evidence, you will decide whether the treatment he received was better or worse than was typical at the time. Finally, you will write a one-page response to the question, “Considering the standards of the time, was Jerome mistreated?”

continue investigation …

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Who Should Receive the Credit?

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A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 16-18

Introduction

On August 16, 1896, four people — an American miner, a First Nations man, his sister, and their nephew — were looking for gold on a creek that flowed into the Klondike River a few kilometres east of the present town of Dawson, Yukon. One of them — no one is sure which one it was — looked into the waters of the creek and saw something glittering. A rock was turned over and there it was: gold as “thick as cheese” in the cracks between the rocks and stones. Dancing for joy, they realized they had found the rich deposit of gold that men and women had been seeking for more than twenty years in this northwestern corner of Canada.

Ever since that day, controversy has swirled around the question of who deserves the credit for making the discovery. The mystery does not lie in the fact that no one has any idea who made it. There are several candidates, each with some claim to being the discoverer. The real challenge is to decide how much credit various individuals deserve for making this great discovery.

The Task

In this MysteryQuest, you are invited to determine what credit, if any, three individuals should share for the discovery of gold in the Klondike. Though a number of small deposits of gold had been discovered in the early 1870s, the “mother lode” remained undiscovered until August 16, 1896. On that day, a major discovery was made: enough gold to fill an empty shotgun shell. Although five people are often identified with the discovery, we will focus on three of the “contenders”:

  • George Carmack, an American;
  • Skookum Jim, a member of the Tagish First Nation;
  • Robert Henderson, a Canadian.

Before deciding how much credit each of these individuals deserves, you will need to learn more about the Gold Rush and the people involved in the discovery. After exploring factors to consider when assigning credit for an accomplishment, you will locate evidence from historical documents to identify the contributions made by the three individuals. You will then use a pie chart to illustrate the amount of credit each individual deserves to receive for his part in the discovery of gold.

continue investigation …

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Protecting the Nation?

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A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 14-18

Introduction

In the spring of 1864 a series of killings sent a chill across Canada. The blood of 14 men, spilled into the Homathco River before dawn on the morning of April 29th, 1864, was only the beginning of this conflict. By the end of May, 19 road-builders, packers, and a farmer were dead. Within six weeks an army of over 100 men had arrived in the area to catch the killers.

The killings took place in a remote triangle in central British Columbia that, at the time, was inaccessible by road or even horse trail. The dead men had all been part of the teams trying to build a road from the Pacific coast to the recently discovered goldfields of the Cariboo.
This area was traditional territory of the Tsilhqot’in people who had lived on the high Chilcotin Plateau for centuries, perhaps for thousands of years. The survivors of the attacks identified the principal leader of the more than 20 people involved in the killings as a Tsilhqot’in chief, who was called “Klatsassin” by his people.

Was this violent conflict an early attempt by First Nations in Canada to assert their legal right to their lands — to their nationhood? Did members of the Chilcotin First Nation kill 17 members of a British road-building crew moving through their territory in 1864 to protect the “national” sovereignty of the Chilcotin nation? Perhaps the motives were more cultural and less political: was it an attempt to protect the Chilcotin culture and way of life from outside forces? Or, as some historians have suggested, were the Chilcotin people lashing out against these non-Natives for reasons that had little to do with politics and cultural preservation?

The Task

In this MysteryQuest, you are asked to take on the role of an historian creating a public monument to commemorate the Chilcotin War of the 1860s. Your main task is to investigate to what extent this war was an attempt to protect a “nation” from invaders.

First, you will examine definitions of “nation” and learn about the two meanings of this term. Then, you will be introduced to the facts of the Chilcotin War. You will refer to an historical overview and maps to get a snapshot of the key events in the group’s history and insight into the relationship between the Chilcotin people and developers who were determined to access the rich resources of the British Columbia interior. You will then examine a number of primary documents from the period, looking for evidence of the Chilcotin motivations for this conflict. Your final task is to prepare a statement on the extent to which this was a war for nationhood. Your ideas will be used by an historical panel investigating the causes of the Chilcotin War to create a plaque commemorating the event.

continue investigation …

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Opposition to Slavery in New France

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A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 14-18

Introduction

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Canada maintained a practice of slavery that forced people of Aboriginal and African descent to endure captivity and servitude. Many people at that time saw slavery as a natural social condition for certain peoples. However, there appear to be few records explicitly documenting that other people were, like us, opposed to slavery.

It is important to appreciate why it is not easy to find or interpret evidence about citizens in New France who opposed slavery. Since people who opposed slavery were in a minority, they may have been reluctant to talk openly about their beliefs. In addition, it may be difficult for us in the present to understand the historical reasons why people objected to slavery. We reject slavery because of the injustice and inequality involved in legally “owning” another person and taking away their basic human rights and freedoms. But the equality of all human beings was not always accepted; those living in earlier times may have had reasons for opposing slavery that differ from ours.

Can we find evidence in the historical documents on the Angélique website that establishes that some people in New France objected to slavery? If so, can we determine whether their reasons were the same or different from our reasons for rejecting slavery?

The Task

In this MysteryQuest, you will take on the role of a person living in eighteenth century New France who is against slavery. However, your opinions are in the minority and you fear that raising such issues in public may cause trouble for you. Instead, you will write a letter to your family explaining why you are against slavery and why they should free the slaves they have in their house.

First, you will read about life in New France. You will also learn to make inferences from the evidence you find here about the thinking of people in New France who opposed slavery. Finally, you will construct a dialogue between yourself — the conscientious objector — and your family, explaining why you are against slavery.

continue investigation …

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Respecting the Doukhobors’ Rights in British Columbia

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A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 14-18

Introduction

Late in the evening of October 28, 1924, Peter Verigin boarded a Canadian Pacific Railway train at Brilliant, British Columbia, the headquarters of the Doukhobor community. About one in the morning a horrific explosion blew away the roof and sides of the coach. Verigin and eight others perished in the explosion, which investigators on the scene quickly concluded was no accident.

Known by the single name “Lordly,” Peter Verigin lived like royalty among a group of Russian immigrants to Canada, the Doukhobors, whose motto was “Toil and Peaceful Life.” The Doukhobors preached equality and rejected the authority of both Church and State. As a result, they were persecuted in Russia. In 1902, their leader, Peter Verigin, and many of his community came to Canada to take up a new life.

Yet they did not find peace in Canada. Doukhobor protests against what they saw as governmental interference with their religious and political freedoms involved arson, public nudity, and refusal to pay taxes or send their children to school. Because of this unusual behaviour, many regarded the Doukhobors as undesirable citizens and they were under surveillance by the RCMP.

Did Canada live up to its promise as a land of religious tolerance and political freedom? Or were the rights of Doukhobors to live according to their deeply-held religious and social beliefs violated?

The Task

In this MysteryQuest you are invited to take on the role of a human rights advocate and prepare a legal opinion on the following question: Would government treatment of the Doukhobors in the early twentieth century have been legal if it had occurred today, under the guarantees provided by theCharter of Rights and Freedoms? You will focus your attention on Doukhobor conflicts with the authorities involving the freedom of conscience and religion.

First, you will learn about the Doukhobors and their history. You will use a timeline of this group’s struggles with authorities over three centuries to gather information about the nature of their conflicts and the basis for government attempts to assert authority over the Doukhobors. Next, you will read about the grounds upon which governments are permitted to limit a group’s fundamental rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. You will examine primary documents from the early twentieth century, looking for evidence to determine whether or not the Doukhobors were legitimately exercising their freedom of conscience and religion and whether or not governments were justified in their responses. Finally, based on the evidence you find, you will prepare a legal brief or opinion on the legality, under the terms established by the Charter, of the historical respect by Canadian authorities for the Doukhobors’ freedom of conscience and religion.

continue investigation …

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The Status of Women in New France

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A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 14-18

Introduction

In the spring of 1734, a fire occurred in Montréal that destroyed a hospital and 45 houses on rue Saint-Paul. Criminal proceedings were soon underway against Marie-Josèphe, dite Angélique, a Black slave, and her White lover, Claude Thibault. The latter fled, leaving Angélique on her own to prove her innocence.

Twenty witnesses filed before the judge, many of them women. Ultimately, Angélique was found guilty based on one late and mysterious statement by a five-year-old girl. Forced to confess her crime under torture, Angélique was publicly executed on June 21, 1734.

Did you know that slavery and state-authorized torture were part of Canada’s early history? These are not the topics that traditionally find their way into Canadian high school textbooks. New France is presented typically as the story of exploration and trade, of coureurs de bois and furs, of the seigneurial system and royal governors. Women enter only in the margins of history; we may learn that the filles du roi were sent out to New France, but we know little of the fabric of their lives. Why do we know so little about the lives of women in the past?

Fortunately, fragments of this story are accessible in primary documents from the period — the testimony in the trial of Angélique, colonial correspondence, personal diaries, and letters. These documents open windows into an important, yet neglected aspect of life in New France: What was life like for women in eighteenth century Quebec?

The Task

In this MysteryQuest, you will develop a profile of the social and political status of various groups of women in New France. You will first learn about the general conditions during the first half of the eighteenth century. Next, you will analyse eight primary documents to learn about the different roles of women and the social values reflected in these roles. Your task will be to identify relevant facts provided in the documents and to draw inferences about the conditions experienced by various women during this period. You will then use this information to compare these women’s quality of life and social position. Your final task is to rank order the eight women or groups of women according to their relative status in this colonial society.

continue investigation …

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Investigating Suspects in the Death of Peter Verigin

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A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 16-18

Introduction

Late in the evening of October 28, 1924, Peter Verigin boarded a Canadian Pacific Railway train at Brilliant, British Columbia, the headquarters of the Doukhobor community. About one in the morning a horrific explosion blew away the roof and sides of the coach. Verigin and eight others perished in the explosion, which investigators on the scene quickly concluded was no accident.

Known by the single name “Lordly,” Peter Verigin lived like royalty among a group of Russian immigrants to Canada, the Doukhobors, whose motto was “Toil and Peaceful Life.” The Doukhobors preached equality and rejected the authority of both Church and State. As a result, they were persecuted in Russia. In 1902, their leader, Peter Verigin, and many of his community came to Canada to take up a new life.

Who could have been responsible for the death of Peter Verigin? Although it may have been an unfortunate accident, at least five groups and individuals were identified as possible suspects in the murder of Verigin. You are invited to follow the evidence pointing to one of these suspects and decide to what degree this group/person deserves to be treated as a serious suspect in Verigin’s death.

The Task

This MysteryQuest invites you to make a recommendation to cold case detectives who might want to reopen an investigation into Verigin’s death. Your task is to examine some of the evidence related to one of five groups or individuals who are identified as possible suspects.

You are to select one of these suspects and decide whether it would be worthwhile for the cold case crime unit to pursue further investigation of this person or group. Before preparing your recommendation, you will familiarize yourself with the historical context of the case and examine four documents pertaining to the suspect you have chosen to investigate. After identifying evidence for possible involvement in Verigin’s death, you are to indicate how seriously the crime unit should investigate this suspect.

continue investigation …

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War, Massacre, or Terrorism?

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A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 16-18

Introduction

In the spring of 1864 a series of killings sent a chill across Canada. The blood of 14 men, spilled into the Homathco River before dawn on the morning of April 29th, 1864, was only the beginning of this conflict. By the end of May, 19 road-builders, packers, and a farmer were dead. Within six weeks an army of over 100 men had arrived in the area to catch the killers.

The killings took place in a remote triangle in central British Columbia that, at the time, was inaccessible by road or even horse trail. The dead men had all been part of the teams trying to build a road from the Pacific coast to the recently discovered goldfields of the Cariboo.

This area was traditional territory of the Tsilhqot’in people who had lived on the high Chilcotin Plateau for centuries, perhaps for thousands of years. The survivors of the attacks identified the principal leader of the more than 20 people involved in the killings as a Tsilhqot’in chief, who was called “Klatsassin” by his people.

Historians have variously called this incident a war, a massacre, or an act of terrorism. But which is it? Soldiers who kill many others during the course of war are not likely to be punished for these killings; in fact they may be honoured for these actions. Committing the same killings outside the context of war would likely result in serious consequences. But here again it may depend whether the killers were acting on behalf of their people to bring about a desired political goal, or simply acting for personal gain or revenge. In short, there is much at stake in deciding upon the kind of incident. You will be invited to examine selected historical documents from the time and draw your own conclusions about which term — war, massacre, or terrorism — most fairly describes this event.

The Task

This MysteryQuest invites you to assess the underlying nature of a violent conflict between whites and First Nations peoples in 1864. Was the killing of the road crew an act of terrorism by the Tsilhqot’in to discourage further trade and traffic in the area? Or were they defending their territory against an invading population? Perhaps they were avenging the deaths of their people who were killed by the European introduction of smallpox years earlier?

You will begin by considering the differences between the terms “war,” “massacre,” and “terrorism.” You will read about the background to this incident and then examine historical documents looking for statements that suggest how this event should be described. Finally, you will decide on the most appropriate term and explain your choice in a one-page essay.

continue investigation ….

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Family Violence and the Reluctance to Speak Up

Source: http://www.canadianmysteries.ca

A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 16-18

WARNING: Child abuse can be a very emotional and disturbing topic, and the case of Aurore Gagnon is one of the most terrible on record. If you need to talk to someone, remember that your teacher, counsellor, or parents are available.

Introduction

It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. Families and communities usually raise children in loving environments, protecting them and making sacrifices to give the very best life possible. But what happens when something goes terribly wrong, and instead of being loved and protected by their family, a child is harmed? What is the responsibility of individuals and organizations outside the family to notice abuse and stop it? What does it take for someone to break the silence and speak up?

Aurore Gagnon was a ten-year-old girl who died of abuse on February 12, 1920. Her story shocked her community and “Aurore, the Child Martyr” has become a famous figure in Québec popular culture. She lived and died in the small community of Sainte-Philomène de Fortierville. Much of what we know of her life is based on the testimony of those who witnessed her abuse and did nothing to save her. How did this small community become so dangerous for this young girl? Why did no one intervene?

The Task

In this MysteryQuest, you will investigate what kind of person might have saved Aurore’s life when so many others did not. Your first step is to understand the facts of the case. You will begin by reading about the murder and the shock across the province as the details of the case became known during the trial of Aurore’s father and stepmother. Next, you will consider present-day explanations of why child abuse within a family may not be reported. Armed with this background information, you will analyse the behaviour of five witnesses in the trials of Aurore’s parents as you answer the question “Why didn’t they help Aurore?” Your final task is to select a fictional character who might have overcome the factors that prevent people from speaking out. In the role of this character, you will imagine the inner thoughts as this individual decides to “do the right thing” for Aurore by reporting the abuse. You will present these thoughts as a first person “interior monologue.”

continue investigation …

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Changing Impressions of Tom Thomson and his Art

Source: http://www.canadianmysteries.ca

A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 16 to 18

Introduction

What did the painter Vincent Van Gogh, the writer Edgar Allan Poe, and the composer Amadeus Mozart have in common? For one, they were all great artists. But they also all died penniless and unappreciated. It was not until significant time had passed that their artistic contributions were considered of historical importance. On the other hand, some artists are very popular in their lifetime, and become less popular over the years.

Tom Thomson is one of Canada’s most famous artists. Tragically, Thomson died young in 1917 while fishing in Algonquin Park, in northern Ontario. He was 39 years old and had only been painting the Canadian landscape, particularly in that region, for five years. Before that, he worked as a designer and illustrator. While painting in Algonquin, he earned money as a wilderness guide. In those days, Thomson might be offered ten dollars for a small painting. Over time, Thomson became a Canadian icon – a man who appreciated Canada’s wilderness and communicated its beauty in a unique way. Recently, one of his paintings sold for over one million dollars at auction.

The mystery of Thomson’s death has seemed to dominate people’s impressions of him. But what about his talent as an artist? Was he always recognized and appreciated? Have people’s impressions of Thomson and his contributions to Canadian art changed since his death? If so, how?

The Task

Your challenge is to determine if, and how, impressions of Tom Thomson’s character and his contributions as an artist have changed over time. To accomplish this task, you will need to learn more about Thomson’s life and art. You will analyze various impressions of the man and of his artwork during two periods: around 1917 at the time of his death, and around 1977 on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Based on this, you will judge how impressions of Thomson the man and the artist have changed and remained constant over time, and of the changes which of these are the most significant.

continue investigation …

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