Tag Archives: canada

What Caused Herbert Norman to Take his Life?


A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 16 to 18


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 …

Debate: Ireland

Although Ireland has gained independence since the the events of the O’Flaherty’s story “The Sniper” or Jordan’s film “Michael Collins,” Northern Ireland continues to be a place of conflict, which can be viewed in at least two ways:

  • Northern Ireland should remain separate from Ireland.
  • Ireland should become one country without a north and south division

Work in a group to debate these two opposing viewpoints. First, use print and electronic sources to research this conflict. Then decide on a statement to debate; for example, Northern Ireland should remain a separate country. Divide into two groups, one for and one against, and then prepare to debate with your classmates. Use the following guidelines as your prepare:

  • review the facts in your research
  • think about your opinion or the position you’ll be taking
  • prepare a persuasive argument about two minutes in length
  • work co-operatively with others on your team to develop three arguments that, but don’t repeat, each other
  • revise your argument
  • memorize and practice delivering your argument
  • during the debate listen carefully to the opposing team’s arguments
  • prepare your rebuttal (your response to the argument of an opposing team member)
2010 World Schools Debating Championship

Canada Wins 2010 World Schools Debating Championship

2010 WSDC Motions

2013 WSDC site

Death of a Young Son by Drowning

“Death of a Young Son by Drowning” by Margaret Atwood is a moving poem about the death of a child. The use of metaphor makes the poem more challenging.


Hope dies when one’s child dies.


  • metaphor, simile, symbolism, allusion.


What happened to the speaker? To her son?

What reflective question does this poem ask?

This poem comes from a collection written by Margaret Atwood called The Journals of Susanna Moodie. In this collection we read of the hardships and triumphs of the title character, who is a pioneer and recent immigrant to Canada. Find and read other poems from this collection.

Write about the comparisons this poem uses. Do you think the comparisons are appropriate or effective?

How do you feel about this poem? What do you like or dislike about it?

What do the last two lines mean?

Discuss the type of journey both mother and son make. Discuss how it symbolizes the journey of life, from birth to death.


“Death of a Young Son by Drowning” by Margaret Atwood

He, who navigated with success
the dangerous river of his own birth
once more set forth

on a voyage of discovery
into the land I floated on
but could not touch to claim.

His feet slid on the bank,
the currents took him;
he swirled with ice and trees in the swollen water

and plunged into distant regions,
his head a bathysphere;
through his eyes’ thin glass bubbles

he looked out, reckless adventurer
on a landscape stranger than Uranus
we have all been to and some remember.

There was an accident; the air locked,
he was hung in the river like a heart.
They retrieved the swamped body,

cairn of my plans and future charts,
with poles and hooks
from among the nudging logs.

It was spring, the sun kept shining, the new grass
leapt to solidity;
my hands glistened with details.

After the long trip I was tired of waves.
My foot hit rock. The dreamed sails
collapsed, ragged.

I planted him in this country
like a flag.