Canada is burning! On the night of 25 April 1849, an enraged crowd of Tories marched upon St. Anne’s Market in Old Montreal, where the Legislative Council and Assembly of Canada sat. The rioters entered the building, destroyed everything in sight, and eventually burnt it to the ground. They were protesting the adoption of the Rebellions Losses Bill – a bill that compensated Lower Canadians that had lost property during the 1837-38 Rebellion. This was a very unpopular bill. Tories argued that many rebels would be unjustly compensated for damage that they had created and wanted the crown to step in and veto this democratically appointed bill. The burning of Parliament has been described as a key moment for Canadian Democracy. Would Canadian democracy survive? Or would it collapse in the face of Tory pressures?

In History 2V03, “Making History,” students will decide, by majority vote, if our infant democracy should survive or not: Were the reformers right to adopt such a controversial bill? Was the crown – as represented by Governor General Lord Elgin – right to ignore Tory demands to veto it? Or should Canadians fight to annul this unpopular bill? Are Canadians ready for self-rule or should we remain under the comfortable tutelage of Great Britain? In Fall 2019, it falls to the students of McMaster University to determine whether democracy in Canada should stand or fall.

HIS 2V03: Making History is an experimental course designed by the Wilson Institute for Canadian History. This high participatory course is a non-traditional approach to history classes. Rather than focusing on lectures, exams, and term papers, we want our students to use their creativity to fully engage with the past. We want our students to relive history. Through posters, presentations, dramatic re-enactments, and debate, we want students to give us a first-hand feel for how each side experienced the intense events of 1849. By engaging so deeply with this particular moment in Canadian history, we also want our students to reflect on the birth of Canadian democracy and how they can use this knowledge today in such divided and precarious times.

The marquee event for this class in an end-of-the-semester banquet in which our students will publicly debate their positions. The winning side will be determined by a vote by secret ballot at the banquet and the adjudication of an expert panel. There will be food and refreshments as well as monetary prizes.

This year, we have a special guest. Andrew Molson – yes, that Molson! – who will provide an introductory remark.

Will you let Canada burn or take a stand for democracy?

Add HIS 2V03: Making History to your course list today!


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