Museum Classroom: Historic Moments in Canada – Pandemics in History

Trigger: The following lesson plan explores the historical and present-day impact pandemics have had on Canada and St. Catharines’ communities through guided discussion. Due to the nature of the subject matter covered, some may find this content sensitive.

Note to teacher: This lesson may be broken up into two parts.

Lesson: Historic Moments in Canada: Pandemics in History
Topic: Exploring pandemics throughout history
Grade: 8+

Activity: Researching and understanding a history of pandemics

Theme: Environmental influences on human history

Objectives/Learning Outcomes:

  • Students will be able to identify distinguishing features between endemics, epidemics, and pandemic
  • Students will be able to outline the effects pandemics have on their community
  • Students will be able to examine St. Catharines’ role and response in addressing and combating a pandemic
  • Students will understand the historical and present-day impact pandemics have had on the community
  • Students will be able to reflect on how they can take action and help the community during the current COVID-19 Pandemic

Curriculum Expectations:

  • History
  • Language

Materials Required:

  • Pencil
  • Electronic device (computer, tablet, laptop)
  • Blank piece of paper

Materials Provided:

  • Pandemic in History handout

Pre-Lesson: Four Corners Activity
Notes to teacher: for proper social distancing, complete the following activity in a larger space, i.e. gymnasium and ensure students are wearing their masks.

Begin with a “Four Corners” exercise as a pretest to determine student views of the significance of diseases in history.

FOUR CORNERS: This structure is designed to allow participants to get to know themselves and each other better and will be used as a content-related class builder to set the tone for activities that will be discussed later. The steps are:

1. The teacher announces the corners. Students think about their choices.

2. They write down their choices on a piece of paper.

3. They go to the corner of their choice.

4. They talk with others in the corner about why they chose it.

5. A spokesperson from the corner shares with the whole group why they chose it.

6. After hearing all of the reasons, students can then change corners.

7. Students return to their tables and review their reasons.

The topic is: Diseases in human history…

Corner 1: Are not worth noting since they did not shape events.
Corner 2: Are important in only a few cases like the Bubonic Plague.
Corner 3: Have played an important role in our history’s past, however, are not significant today.
Corner 4: Are important to our past and will play a significant role in our future.

After completing the Four Corners activity, ask students if they can explain what the following are:

  • Endemic
  • Epidemic
  • Pandemic

Allow students to discuss what they believe are suitable definitions for each term. Then watch the video: ‘Endemic vs Epidemic vs Pandemic – How Epidemiologists Classify Disease Prevalence

After watching the video, have students look at a current media story about the flu or other outbreak of disease in the news, followed by a discussion of the significance of disease in history (i.e. smallpox, influenza, cholera, etc.)

Set up the inquiry by asking students if diseases, plagues, epidemics, and pandemics get enough coverage in history courses or textbooks.


What Do You Wonder?

Source: City of Toronto Archives
Date: July 29, 1913

Note to teacher: print of individual physical copies of the photo or project on Smart Board for students to view.

Have students look at the photograph above. On a blank piece of paper, have them state some things that they wonder about this photo. Use the Five W’s and H: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How to assist in your inquiry. Discuss student’s comments as a class.

After the discussion, inform students that the photograph is of children at Victoria Park Forest School in Toronto practicing blowing their noses in 1913.

Using the photograph as context, ask students why this photograph may be of significance? What happened during this period of time that such a photograph would exist focusing on these actions? Allow students to formulate thoughts and answer.

Ask students if they know what ‘The Spanish Flu’ is and can explain their answer. Allow students time to formulate their thoughts and discuss.

Explain to students that the Spanish Flu was an extremely devastating form of Influenza that struck Canada between 1918 and 1920. Inform students that they will be investigating and collecting information on the Spanish Flu as it pertains to Canada.

Next, ask students if they know what ‘SARS’ is and can explain their answer? Allow students time to formulate their thoughts and discuss.

Explain to students that SARS is an infectious disease caused by a coronavirus – so named for the crown or halo surrounding them.

Lastly, as a class, ask students what they know about the COVID-19 Pandemic (i.e. what it is, symptoms, how it is spread, etc.) Students should be familiar with COVID-19 Pandemic as opposed to the other pandemics and be able to provide information based on community protocols and procedures.

Note to teacher: Optional – watch the video information video on COVID-19: 

Using the following links:

Students will explore in-depth information about the Spanish Flu, SARS, and COVID-19 and the impact it had on Canada. Students will gather their information by completing the Pandemic in History handout

Explain to students that they will be using the Pandemic in History handout to help them conduct their research and recording their information.

  1. Download and print the Pandemic in History handout. If you cannot print, we recommend downloading the Adobe or Word version of the handout.

Note to teacher: Allow students time to conduct research and fill in their handout with the appropriate information.

Once students have completed the Pandemic in History handout review as a class. Ask students to identify similarities and differences between the pandemics that have occurred throughout history. How has Canada’s response to each pandemic changed?

St. Catharines Legacy

The Welland House, St. Catharines, Ontario
Source: The St. Catharines Museum (1075-N)
Date: 1853-1993

Note to teacher: Distribute individual physical copies of the photograph or project on a Smart Board.

After discussing the Pandemic in History handout, show students the Welland House photograph. Ask students, “how do you think the Spanish Flu impacted St. Catharines?” Using inferencing skills and the knowledge they have learned from collecting research, students should be able to formulate thoughtful answers on how they think the City was impacted by the pandemic. Discuss as a class.

Have students close their eyes and imagine what life may have been like in 1918 and read the following excerpt from the St. Catharines Standard on October 12, 1918:

The City of St. Catharines did not come through the Spanish Flu epidemic untouched.

It is difficult to know the total number of flu cases in the community as many people were treated in their homes rather than in institutional settings.

In order to accommodate additional flu cases, quarantine hospitals were opened.  The Welland House Hotel on Ontario Street converted its private maternity hospital – The Welland – into a quarantine hospital in order to provide more room for serious flu cases.  Other quarantine wards were established in the convalescent hospital in the former Merritt home and in St. John’s Church in Port Dalhousie.

Additionally, Ridley College had only recently opened its new isolation hospital.  While all the stricken students survived the disease, a school nurse – Miss Bush, and a school master – Mr. H. J. Flynn, both succumbed to the outbreak.

The flu so stretched the resources of the General and Marine hospital that they had to close to general patients from September 30th to October 15th, 1918.  The hospital reported that they had to take on extra graduate nurses and loaned equipment from the Welland Canal Hospital in order to re-open.

The severity of the epidemic would test the ability of the local Board of Health to respond to this type of crisis.

Based on resources and medical expertise using information they collected during their research, ask students, “What do you think it would have been like to live in St. Catharines during the Spanish Flu pandemic?” “What steps would you take to protect yourself?”

Show students the updated picture of what was once the Welland House for comparison. This will help students understand the transition of the historic building from past to present.

As a class review the City of St. Catharines’ ‘State of Emergency’ and ‘Mandatory Masks By-Law’:

Ask students, how has information changed in St. Catharines regarding the pandemics? What do you notice between the articles (Spanish Flu excerpt and St. Catharines State of Emergency)?

Reflection of a Pandemic
As a final activity, have students write a journal entry on how COVID-19 has personally impacted their life. What things have changed? What has stayed the same? What are you doing in your community to keep yourself and other safe? Explain to students they may get creative with their entries, write poems, use published poems, song lyrics, or draw pictures to express their thoughts.

If students feel comfortable to do so, share journal entries as a class and have them identify similarities and differences among their peers.

Wrap up Discussion
Review previous statements from the Four Corners exercise. Ask students based on the research they have conducted would they change their response, why or why not? Discuss as a class.

To wrap up the lesson, ask students what important role have pandemics played in our history’s past? What role will the current pandemic play in our history? How will it impact the future?

Differentiated Instruction
Students who have cognitive, learning, or mobility issues may verbally describe their Pandemic in History answers in addition to their reflection piece or use an assisted learning device (i.e. computer, iPad, tablet, etc.) to complete the handout.

Note to teacher: If you enjoyed this lesson plan, we encourage you to visit our Legacy of a Pandemic:

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