The Canadian Experience: An ABC of the Battle of the Atlantic

A multidiscipline study of Canada's role in the Atlantic Theatre of Operations.

Thomas Dykes, Joanna Anderson and James Stainton
Thomas A. Blakelock High School, Oakville, ON

Intended Grade Levels

Grades 9–12
Canadian History, Canadian Geography, Language, Art, Family Studies, Math, Science, Media Studies, Physical Education, Economics and Music.


How the Battle of the Atlantic impacted all of Canada and initiated major social, economic and cultural changes.

Examine and analyze the impact of the Battle of the Atlantic on Canada through every 'academic prism'.

Although the subject of the Battle of the Atlantic is confined to the Grade 10 Canadian History course, it has applicaiton in World Issues Unit 4 and aspects can be introduced in every high school discipline. Our project is an ongoing exercise that will culminate in a celebration of Canada's Navy Centennial in 2010.

The Battle of the Atlantic was more than just dates and ship loss statistics. It was a conflict that impacted every part of Canada; Canada's navy grew from a few ships to hundreds, thousands of young men and women joined the service, Canadian cities took on new and critically important roles, many new industries developed; technologies and sciences advanced at a rapid pace. As in WWI, women took on an increasingly vital role. Canadian life took on a new dimension, young men saw countries they'd only read about, or heard about from their grandparents. Every aspect of life was impacted; therefore teaching a subject should not exclude the embracement of other disciplines, rather they should be considered as enrichments.

Our project will build a unique school resource and develop academic partnerships with other schools across Canada and in Britain. Through primary source research, interviewing veterans, and through the Cities in Conflict unit with students in Atlantic Canada and Britain, our students experience an appreciation for diversity of disciplines through which this period of Canadian history can be viewed. Students in all grades had and will have opportunities to examine Canada's role in the Battle of the Atlantic through various ongoing projects.

Grade 12 media students have produced a DVD of interviews with veterans who fought on both sides of the battle. An expanded team is also developing a DVD on the role played by HMCS Haida, Canada's most celebrated Destroyer now located in Hamilton Harbour. This team is linked with students in Newcastle on Tyne where Haida was built. In Halifax, St. John's and Liverpool, England students are developing a DVD series on the role those cities played in the battle. The completed works will become a resource for the schools involved.

Grade 12 Writer's Craft students hosted a Battle of the Atlantic veterans symposium. The students met with Canadian, British and German veterans, naval historians and family members of Canadian veterans of the Battle. The students produced reports of their interviews to be added to our other primary source material. Grade 12 media students also video recorded the symposium and also took over 400 still photographs. A team of Art students designed displays for the Library where the symposium was held.

Family Studies teachers are working to conduct a Battle of the Atlantic focused lesson that will bring grade 9, 11, and 12 students together to meet with Mrs. Vi Connolly, who at 19, was Hamilton's Rosie the Riveter. Vi was also a new wife whose husband Bill was a signalman on HMCS Athabaskan. When the Athabaskan was sunk in action, Vi waited for over three months before she learned he was a prisoner. Students will learn of the trials of family life in coping with rationing in food and materials. Veterans from across Canada have been sending their memories of 'Shipboard' food. Our foods grade 9 plans a Battle of the Atlantic meal!

Grade 12 Data Management students will analyze the volumes of statistical data that relate to the Battle of the Atlantic, merchant ship tonnage, cargoes, warships and men. A team of students will also seek to construct a facsimile of the German Enigma machine. This application of math, science and technology was critical during the battle and, we think therefore, has application in our ongoing project.

Few students were aware that Canada had been 'invaded' during WWII and when this was examined and explored in a History 10 class, it suggested the need to develop a unit that addressed the history and geography of that region of Canada that was most strategic and most vulnerable - the St. Lawrence and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The expanse and the physical geography of the region, along with its sparse population, made it a difficult defensive challenge to both the Royal Canadian Navy and Britain's Royal Navy.

Grade 10 students will also learn of the challenge that the last vestige of New Franch posed to allied security. St. Pierre-Miquelon was a Vichy French outpost right in the middle of the allied convoy route. This outpost of occupied France was to create a disproportionate amount of diplomatic turmoil between Canada and Britain, and the still neutral United States of America. Even today, this outpost of France is challenging Cnada over ocean floor rights.

This was a region of old and new empires. The Gulf of St. Lawrence had vestiges of New France and the last 'element' of British North America - Newfoundland and Labrador. These old empire remnants were on the doorstep of the newly emerging America and were on the front line of conflict with the rise of Nazi Germany's new empire. What an amazing potential for educational exploration.

In the final analysis, our aim is to provide teachers and students with a variety of academic "windows of opportunity" to exmaine in a variety of ways, from incidental to in-depth, some of the amazing links that this monumental conflict has offered us as educators. As the 70th anniversary of the start of the conflict approaches and the eyewitness and active participants are dwindling in number, it is our academic and social responsibility to seek to confirm in our classrooms, a remembrance of the actions they undertook in those years and to appreciate the richness of the memories many have shared with us.

Our project is dynamic and ongoing. It is evolving and will be an active learning undertaking for this and the next academic year. Given the nature of the topic and the support we have received from veterans, historians and the families of veterans, we feel that this is but the beginning of an exciting educational operation. The support from other high schools suggests that this formula will become accepted with some enthusiasm and, with some innovations, customized to show the connection of the host school to the era and event.

Thomas M. Dykes — Joanna Anderson — James Stainton