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Grade 5 / History, Math, Social Sciences
  • Local history, fur trade history, geography, long division, communication, resourcefulness
Students will:
  • practice estimating
  • use primary resources to analyze and discuss objects with little information provided
  • understand and compare differences and similarities between historical artifacts with objects used today
  • use computers to search FurTradeStories.ca for answers to questions

Approximately two hours.

This lesson plan is a combination of the teacher presenting to the class using a computer for projection on screen and the students using their own terminals or working in pairs. If you don’t have enough computers or reliable Internet access, you can print off the artifact images and hand them out in the classroom.

Set up website prior to class so that students don’t get a peek ahead of time. Go to FurTradeStories.ca then work your way through > 1600-1867 > Identity, Culture & Communities > Artifacts > Mailbox Bench (or go directly to http://www.furtradestories.ca/details_content-id-272_cat-id-2_sub-cat-id-1) and click on the Zoom In button. A new window will open with a larger view of the Mailbox bench. Minimize the other window so the information can’t be seen on-screen.

Provide your students with a preamble to set stage for life in the fur trade, the distances traveled, and the time it took to complete tasks we take for granted. Maybe make a connection to today by asking how often they get mail, or communicate with relatives over the phone or friends using email or instant messaging; or compare communication changes from their grandparents time to their parents time to their time. Try to get them to imagine asking their best bud a question, and waiting a year to hear the answer.


Activity One
Open with a modern map of Canada* and have students guess what the distance is between Red River (Winnipeg) may be a few possible answers depending on method used (as the crow flies, TransCanada route, actual ground covered which may include detours). Tell them Jean-Baptiste Lagimodière once travelled 3000 km over 150 days delivering dispatches for the HBC, going from the Red River settlement to Montreal.
  • Have students work out on paper: how many kilometers did he average per day? 3000/150 = 20 km.

Possible follow-up threads: How many kilometers do the students walk in a day? Compare length of their school year with time it took him to cross three provinces.

* One map you can use is available at CanadianGeographic.ca. Click on the Explore the Maps in the left-hand column. When the new map window pops up you will see a red triangle next to the distance 7100 km. Click once on the 7100 to open the field, then type 3000 and hit update. You can adjust the view to move a little more southerly – the silver star slightly to the right is a Pan tool and if you click once on the bottom point you should have the perfect view of the map covering Manitoba to Quebec.

Activity Two
Bring up the zoomed image of the Mailbox Bench, but ensure that the title and text are hidden from view.
  1. Ask if they know what it is, get specific (i.e., not just a bench)
    a. Bench that doubles as a mailbox to four different trading posts
  2. Does anyone know what it was used for or how it might have been used?
    a. In addition to seating, there are slots on the seats that allow mail to fall into four compartments and stay protected until someone is charged with delivering the mail and places the mail in packet boxes.
  3. Why would they use it that way?
    a. The dual purpose of the bench allows more room in what is typically a small or crowded area. (If students have visited a trading post such as Fort Langley or Fort Gibraltar, remind them of how cramped the buildings were.)
  4. Anything else? Ideas on how long it would take for mail to arrive?
    a. Even as recent as the 1920s, it would take a year for someone’s letter from a remote post in Labrador to arrive at the Winnipeg District Office.
  5. What would be a good time of year to send mail to Europe?
    a. Spring, as soon as the ice thawed and the ships could leave. It allowed for the possibility of mail being delivered, and for the recipient to send their response before the Fall.

    What would be a bad time of year?
    a. Late fall or winter, if there was an early freeze packets could only get as far as the port and would have to wait until the next spring thaw.

Activity Three
Hand out The Scavenger Hunt [see Appendix 1a] to the students. Students should be stationed at a computer terminal (either individually or in pairs) go to FurTradeStories.ca, and then directly to the artifact list [instructions are on the sheet]. They will find the answers to the questions by clicking on the links [see Appendix 1b].

While the students are working on their Scavenger Hunt, close the window that displays the larger image of the Mailbox Bench and maximize the Fur Trade Stories window again. Click on the back button once so you see the list of links in their categories. Click on Historical Connections in the left-hand column – the screen should refresh and under Artifacts you will see Lagimodière’s Sash. Click on the link and Zoom In. Minimize the other window so the information can’t be seen on-screen.

Activity Four
If you haven’t already, go to FurTradeStories.ca then work your way through > 1600-1867 > Historical Connections > Artifacts > Lagimodière’s Sash (or go directly to http://www.furtradestories.ca/details_content-id-252_cat-id-2_sub-cat-id-3) and click on the Zoom In button. A new window will open with a larger view of Lagimodière’s Sash. Minimize the other window so the information can’t be seen on-screen.
  1. Ask if they know what it is, and point out that it is believed to have belonged to Jean-Baptiste Lagimodière, whom they learned about earlier.
  2. Guessing it’s a sash would be pretty easy, so now ask what else it could be used for. Rope, harness, belt, horse bridle, tumpline*.
  3. Why wouldn’t the fur traders just use a rope, harness, belt, bridle, tumpline? Canadian Tire or RONA wasn’t around then, and trading posts were few and far between. Fur traders bought all their provisions, usually on credit, at the beginning of winter and traveled great distances to their hunting or trapping areas. If any thing was lost or broken, they had to make do with whatever was available until they returned in the spring, or, if they were lucky enough, met a fellow traveler willing to part with theirs. In the spring, they brought the furs to the store that gave them the credit for their provisions and paid off their debt. With the amount left over, they were able to use that credit for more goods, for example, a copper kettle, sewing needles, clothes, food, or a present for their wife.
  4. Can they give you another example of a fur trader’s resourcefulness by finding multiple uses for an item? The Mailbox Bench.

*Tumpline: A strap slung across the forehead or the chest to support a load carried on the back.

Activity Five
Hand out Then & Now [see Appendix 2] to the students. Seated at their computer terminal again, have them go back to the artifact list and find the objects listed and provide answers in the spaces provided.
  • Computer lab time to access
    • FurTradeStories.ca > 1600-1867 > search Artifacts > Mailbox Bench, Lagimodière’s Sash
    • CanadianGeographic.ca – for the map of Canada
  • Paper and pen/pencil

Click here to download a PDF of Appendices 1a, 1b and 2.

The above appendices are in PDF format and require Adobe Reader in order to view. For a free download, click here.