First Day of School – Good luck!

I wanted to take a break from my hiatus to wish all the teachers, students and parents out there the very best of luck as we enter a new school year!

I am personally on maternity leave after the birth of my lovely daughter in June of this year. I’m attending a school of my own in first time parenting!

May your PLNs broaden, your learning go deeper, and may you stay open to new ideas, mistakes, and the path not taken!


Cultivating Awareness

A quick thought to share as I learn more about encouraging mindfulness in my students, especially those with anxiety issues.

Too much of the education system orients students toward becoming better thinkers, but there is almost no focus on our capacity to pay attention and cultivate awareness. We can learn to bring together the body’s various systems to fine tune the body and mind, so we can navigate life’s ups and downs in a way that minimizes stress and maximizes well-being.

– Jon Kabat-Zinn, in conversation with Stephan Rechtschaffen, cofounder of the Omega Institute via Mindful magazine


Ode of Remembrance

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

J.K. Rowling on the Fringe Benefits of Failure

Thanks all for your patience during my (continued) self-imposed hiatus during a supplying/track and field busy season! To tide you over, here’s a great talk by J.K. Rowling on failure, its hidden benefits, and the importance of human imagination and empathy.

Caine’s Arcade: Who Says Learning Can’t be Fun?

I love this video for many reasons. It’s an amazing example of the kindness of the human spirit, but also an amazing example of how play can translate into learning.

Think of how many skills Caine must have picked up building his arcade! Critical thinking, problem solving, mathematical, literary and spatial to start. He also would have developed habits of mind like persistence, thinking independently, questioning and striving for accuracy and precision — again, just as a start. Yet it was a task that was fun, playful and instilled him with a sense of pride and ownership. Please share this fantastic story!


Private Claude H. Cox; 7th Battalion Canadian Infantry

Vimy Ridge has always held a special place for me as a Canadian historian and educator. Beyond its status as a nation-maker though, Vimy has a personal pull as well.

My Grandma Fraser’s uncle (making him my Great-Great Uncle) fought with the 7th Battalion, Canadian Infantry at Vimy Ridge. He survived the initial attack, only to be fatally wounded 3 days after. In many ways I attribute my love of history to Claude and his sacrifice. In honour of him and the 7000 wounded and 3578 dead, my post on this 95th Anniversary of Vimy Ridge is about Claude: a real person and story in the greater Canadian myth of Vimy Ridge.

Claude was born October 26, 1891 in Manchester, England to Owen William Cox and Ella Wills Wookey. His father worked as Receiver at the Manchester Grammar School. He had an older brother (my Great-Grandfather), Reginald Owen Cox and two sisters: one older, Kathleen, and one younger, Dorothy. His sister Kathleen tragically died when she was 8 years old (and Claude 7) when, playing with matches with a neighbourhood boy, she set her petticoats on fire.

Family lore suggests that Claude felt constrained in his life in England, and sometime in the early 1900s emigrated to Canada. His brother Reginald arrived in Canada in 1907; a passenger list has Claude arriving (perhaps for the first time, although it is not certain) in 1910 with his destination as Red Deer, Alberta. Census data has him living in St. Catharines, Ontario in 1912 as a Farm Labourer.

We know he left Canada in 1912 with his destination set as “Los Angeles, California.” His intention was a horseback trip down the North American West Coast. (With a trip like this, it’s not hard to see his personality, and how he may have felt constrained in England.) He was still on this trip when war broke out in 1914.

We know that Claude was rejected entry to Canada at White Rock, British Columbia on the 8 February 1915. After this, things get a little fuzzy. The Imperial War Museum biography of Claude has him enlisting with “the 72 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders of Canada on 22 February 1915, subsequently transferring to 11 Battalion Canadian Mounted Rifles.” His Attestation Papers, however, have him enlisting on 19 March, 1915, with the signing officer being from the Canadian Mounted Rifles and the regimental number associated with 7th Battalion.

The papers list him as 5ft 9 1/4 inches, with chest measurements of 36 1/2 inches and his range of expansion 1 1/2 inches. His complexion is listed as Fair, with blue eyes and brown hair. He has a vaccination mark on his left arm, and a scar on his left shin.

In 1916, Claude relinquished his rank of Corporal and joined the Lewis Gun Section – the Imperial War Museum biography indicates this was in order to see action on the Western Front. His rank in the Lewis Gun is confirmed by his letters home.

That seems to be a fine advance we have made down on the Somme. I have not seen any of the details in the paper but —from all I have heard it seems good. Apparently Fritz withdrew under pressure. He will have to do considerably more withdrawing before we get through with him. His strength is tried out every night along the line somewhere by continual raiding and he does not like it. I wish I could bust-out and tell you the story of a raid  but the censor would not pass it so you will have to read the story in the newspapers.Being in the Lewis section I have no place in the small night raids.They are handled by the bombers and bayonet men whilst we stand to and take whatever Fritz sees fit to throw over in the nature of shells. Here I had better cease before I say too much.

We know also of his plans for the end of the war, in a letter to his father (referring to a letter from his sister, Dorothy – here, Dorry):

 I still cannot think of any particular want that Dorry can  supply. She says I am lucky if I want nothing. I want a lot of things – particularly the end of the war, a suit of civvies, a clean shirt, a square meal, a quiet fireside, a home, a retreat from the crowds and a beaten Hun. I have nothing more to write about so here’s the best of love  to all.

Claude participated in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and wrote a brief letter sometime after the attack to his father, sending along a few relics from the battlefield – relics that did not make it with the letters through history.

Relics from the battlefields of Souchez Carency and Vimy  Ridge. Where the French lost 100,000 men in the earlier days of the war. We are now holding Vimy Ridge, near Lens and not very far from Arras. My battalion is here. Am sending this in haste by one of our Corporals  who is going on leave. The bayonet is French a relic of the fierce  hand-to-hand fighting which took place here 12 months ago. You will be  able to clean it up with emery paper. The handle I believe is of nickel. The shell fragments are modern, that is they fell within the last two days, one of ’em un-pleasantly close. Very quiet here, however I am  quite well and uninjured. Mr. Lees and your parcel came all right. You do  not seem to have got my letter telling you so. No letter from you lately, but two from Dorry. Cold, dry, frosty weather. Written in the front lines.

This was Claude’s final letter from the front. On the 13 April 1917 he was wounded by a shell blast and removed to No. 7 Canadian General Hospital. According to letters from W. A. Ferguson, the Chaplain at the hospital, by the 18 or 19 of April, the gangrene in his right leg had grown so bad that amputation was necessary. (The Imperial War Museum lists both legs as being amputated.) Ferguson wrote:

 Unfortunately his strength seemed unequal to the shock and he died peacefully yesterday afternoon, a day and a half (I think) after his operation. I saw him a couple of times the day before he died and was with him at night for awhile. The nurse also sent me a message at 6 a.m. yesterday, at his request, and I went over and sat with him holding his hand for awhile and talking to him. He was very weak but quite clear, brave, and peaceful and talked about his home, about you, about his little sister to whom he wished his love sent; and also about a young lady in Victoria B.C. who he said had “kept him straight” by her affection. He asked me to write to you, and tell you anything I could. He was strangely alive at this time and was even smoking his pipe and apparently enjoying it–though of course I knew, and I think he did, that there was little chance of his pulling through. The only thing noticeable except pallor and weakness was that he said his head was full of fancies, and occasionally for a minute or two he drifted off to describe the old friends he had (he said) just met outside–and then he would realize that he was wandering and become perfectly clear again. We talked about his prayers too, and he seemed to be trusting God. I was very greatly attracted to him and so was his nurse, and I feel I should like to express my deepest sympathy for the loss of so gallant and fine a son. I saw him again about 9:30 a.m. and he was weaker but very cheerful. The next time (3 p.m.) he was unconscious, and just slept away in the afternoon.

A later letter, still to Claude’s father, read:

You understand probably that the so-called “gas gangrene” is a very rapid and deadly, though painless infection of a wound, which arises quite suddenly, it is believed from contact with the  soil of the trenches. It was this which caused his death. There is at  present no antidote known. Amputation is the only hope, and so rapid is the infection 6 or 8 hours sometimes between its first appearance and the fatal result that even amputation naturally often fails. I know that your dear son was tenderly nursed and cared for up to the last, and that his mind was evidently at peace. I don’t know that there is anything finer or happier that one can say about death than that.

Claude died April 20, 1917 of post-operative shock at age 25. He is buried at Grave 0.148 at Etaples Military Cemetery.

When we, as Canadians, think about Vimy Ridge, we think of a great Canadian victory. Sir Arthur Currie, the creeping barrage, and extensive rehearsals. We think of all the Canadian divisions fighting as one united Corps: a nation-making moment. Rarely do we think of the British artillery and 51st Highland Division who also participated. Although with our collective memory of the First World War, loss, death and mourning are ever-present, with Vimy it is often a celebration of nationhood. Rarely, with Vimy, do we think of the 7000 wounded and 3578 dead, including my Great-Great Uncle Claude.

Today, on Vimy’s 95th Anniversary, take the time to remember and honour the over 10,000 casulaties from one of our most mythologized Canadian moments.

This Week in Canadian History (April 9-15)

April 9, 1917 – For the first time in their history, all four Divisions of the Canadian Corps fight together, under then-General Arthur Currie and Canadian Corps Commander Sir Julian Byng, at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. With extensive rehearsals, shared knowledge of targets amongst ranks and the creeping barrage technique, almost 100,000 Canadian troops, plus support from British artillery and the 51st Highland Division, captured all but one objective by 12 noon on the 9th. “The Pimple,” the German’s most impregnable spot, would be taken by the 12th of April. Considered one of Canada’s greatest victories (four Victoria Crosses were awarded) and defining moments, it is important to remember the cost: nearly 7000 wounded and 3578 dead, including my great-great uncle Claude.

April 10, 1841 – Halifax is incorporated as a city. Founded in 1749, Halifax served as a British counter to the French Acadia settlement and an important stronghold for British share in cod and fisheries.

1866 – Over 700 Fenian (Irish-American) troops stationed across the shore in Maine are prevented from attacking Campobello Island, New Brunswick. Many cite the Fenian threat as a contributing factor in Maritime and Canadian Confederation.

April 11,1713 -The Treaty of Utrecht is signed, ending the War of the Spanish Succession; most relevantly to Canadians, France recognized British claim on the Hudson Bay basin, and ceded claims to Newfoundland and the French settlement of Acadia.

April 12, 1980 – Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope begins; he dipped his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean near St. John’s, Newfoundland, planning to run across Canada to raise 1 million dollars for cancer research. Terry was 21 years old from British Columbia. Watch his amazing story below.

April 13, 1861 – Margaret Saunders, author of Beautiful Joe and the first Canadian author to sell over 1 million copies of a book, was born in Nova Scotia.

April 14, 1871 – Act setting uniform currency across Canada is approved in Canadian parliament: this included dollars, cents and mills. The dollar must be feeling lonely now that the “cent” is going out of circulation!

Hearses at Halfiax wharf
Reference no.: Nova Scotia Archives Photo Drawer - Transportation & Communication - Ships & Shipping - RMS Titanic #3

April 15, 1912 – The RMS Titantic, which hit an iceberg 11:40PM on the 14th,  sinks in the North Atlantic by 2:20AM. 1,514 passengers die in one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters. Although the Carpathia (which docked in New York, with approximately 700 survivors) is the best known recovery vessel, and first on the scene, four Canadian-based ships were involved in the recovery of bodies. Mackay-Bennett recovered 306 bodies, and buried 116 at sea. The Minia, CGS Montmagny and Algerine (from St. John’s) recovered 22 bodies, with 3 burials at sea. Although 59 dead were sent to families, the remaining found their final resting place at Fairview Lawn Cemetary in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Like this feature? Check out The Canadian Encyclopedia, Today in Canadian History and the CBC Archives for more just like it!


TED Talk: Diana Laufenberg — How to learn? From mistakes.

A bit of a late-night post, but after an inspiring #edchat, I went looking for more inspiration from my favourite source, TED Talks. This is a fantastic one. Diana Laufenberg, an American educator, talks about providing authentic learning opportunities for students by posing a problem and letting them own it, mistakes and all.

We deal right now in the educational landscape with an infatuation with the culture of one right answer that can be properly bubbled on the average multiple choice test. I am here to share with you, it is not learning… to tell kids to never be wrong. To ask them to always have the right answer doesn’t allow them to learn.”

One of my favourite takeaways (besides the quote above) was a belief that I share with Laufenberg, and one we could all be reminded of in our hustle-and-bustle world of education:

The things that kids will say when you ask them and take the time to listen is extraordinary.

This Week in Canadian History (April 2-8)

April 2, 1871 – The first Census of the new Dominion of Canada is taken. Our population? About 3,689,250 strong, with approx. 2,110,500 claiming British origins and approx. 1,082,940 claiming French. (My family history has a little of both!)

– 1975 – The final pieces of Toronto’s CN Tower are put in place, forever changing the skyline of Ontario’s capital city.

April 3, 1916 – Canadian troops from the 2nd Canadian Division relieve British forces at St. Eloi, Belgium, finding trenches that were waist-deep in water and under constant fire from German artillery. German counterattacks three days later drove Canadians from their positions. There were 1373 casualties from the fighting here.

NATO Photos, Ref. no: 12323

April 4, 1949 –  12 countries, including Canada – as represented by then Minister of External Affairs Lester B. Pearson and the Canadian ambassador, sign the North Atlantic Treaty, becoming founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Listen to the CBC Radio coverage of the signing here. Pearson said the pact was born from “fear and frustration,” and was “not a pact for war, but a pledge for peace and progress.”

April 5, 1951 – Award-winning Canadian author Guy Vanderhaeghe was born in Esterhazy, Saskatchewan. Vanderhaeghe is perhaps best known for his collection of short stories Man Descending (1982) and novel The Englishman’s Boy (1996), both winners of the Governor General’s Award.

April 6, 1968 – Pierre Trudeau is elected leader of the Liberal Party of Canada at its National Leadership Convention in Ottawa.

April 7, 1868 – Thomas D’Arcy McGee is assassinated on his way home from a session in Parliament. McGee was one of the Fathers of Confederation, present at the Charlottetown and Québec conferences and an MP for Montréal West. D’Arcy McGee, Irish-born, was also fervently opposed to the Fenian Brotherhood. A suspected Fenian, James Patrick Whelan, was later arrested for the murder.

– 1977 – The Toronto Blue Jays defeat the Chicago White Sox 9-5 at their first-ever home opener. The first game in Blue Jays history was anything but uneventful — before the first pitch, the turf at Exhibition Stadium had to be vacuumed of a layer of snow. Listen to the CBC Radio coverage of the game here.

April 8, 1875 – The North-West Territories Act is enacted by Canadian Parliament, separating the North-West Territories from Manitoba and granting it separate political entity, with David Laird as its first Lieutenant Governor and the promise of an elected council. (It’s been a good two weeks for Canadian provinces and territories, with Nunavut and Newfoundland last week!)

Like this feature? Check out The Canadian Encyclopedia, Today in Canadian History and the CBC Archives for more just like it!

Follow Friday:

I love genealogy. I’m also fortunate enough that my family’s ancestry is (relatively) trackable. My Scottish ancestors (the Frasers) arrived in Canada in 1815, my Irish ancestors (the O’Shaughnessy family) I have back to 1837 in Nova Scotia, my English side (Cox) arrived in 1907, and my French Canadian side (the Menards) – well, I have once source citing their ancestors (Boucher) arriving in Quebec around 1619. You know, just hanging out with Champlain, waiting for some filles de roi. When people ask “what” I am? I’m Canadian, thank you very much.

The Details:

My family currently shares a Canada Deluxe Membership at It’s 119/yr and gives us access to Canadian Census data to 1916, Birth, Marriage & Death information, primarily from the 1800s and early 1900s (you’ll get lucky if you’ve got French Canadian heritage like me. Excellent record keepers), Immigration and Passenger Lists, other Canadian family trees and some newspaper data (I’ve used this mostly for obituary information.)

It currently suits our needs, but we have in many ways reached the end of our Canadian rope. To learn beyond arrivals in Canada, you really need the World Deluxe Membership, which is 299/yr – a bit steep for my budget, and even here it seems largely limited to Canada, US, UK & Ireland (Ancestry employees, correct me if I’m wrong), so if you’re not researching there, you may be out of luck beyond others’ family trees.

Best Features:

  • Member Family Trees — This has been incredibly helpful in my own research. I’ve been able to connect with other researchers who are looking at the same family and get more detailed data, information, and in some cases, even photographs. One member recently shared with me photographs he’d found online of my Great-Great-Great Grandmother, Deidemia (Church) Fraser (1831-1914).
  • The little green leaf — This is their advertising hook and by golly they’ve hooked me. Enter a name into your family tree, and if you’re lucky a little green leaf will appear next to it. This means that in their system, they have someone with similar information either in one of their records, or in another member family tree. Sometimes it’s completely off base, and if you don’t have the right membership you won’t be able to see the information (devastating.) But sometimes it can lead to marriage records, attestation papers or census data that reveals information you didn’t know yet existed.
  • Site functionality — It’s a relatively simple process to set up an account and begin making your family tree. I’ve experienced only a few hiccups in the system (when adding children to a relationship, be sure to connect them with both the existing mother and father – it doesn’t do this automatically!) I started using the program when it was in the previous millenium. It was pretty easy to use then and is just as easy to use now.

What’s Next?

  • For young amateurs like myself the price can be pretty steep. If you’ve got all your information already and have no interest in using their resources, it’s free. But that little green leaf draws you in…
  • I’d love to see them offer the program at reduced cost to students, teachers or members of historical organizations.  I know that they have reduced prices for Canadian Legion Members, so why not extend it further?
  • There are a number of ways they could make the site more accessible to educators, including classroom, school or board memberships with heightened security — and if these exist, they should be more obviously promoted online.
  • Most glaringly: I understand that they are an American company, but their resources are very limited once you go beyond North American and the British Isles. I appreciate the difficulty in finding or accessing resources in many countries. As it stands, I would not use this program as an activity in my urban, multicultural Toronto school. It’s likely that I would be the only one able to find any records at all.

My recommendation? If you’re at all curious about your family history, start with the 14 day free trial. Just don’t blame me if you suddenly find you can’t live without it.

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