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Economic gains

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This lesson explores Canada's economic progress between 1867 and 1967 using statistical data from various editions of the Canada Year Book. Students will see that the standard of living of Canadians improved dramatically over this hundred-year period. They will work in groups to discover that economic gains resulted from a number of factors, such as changes in technology and increased productivity. Also, they will role-play government economists assigned to write a report about economic gains between 1867 and 1967 for the heritage minister.


  • To demonstrate computer skills by locating relevant information from historical sources.
  • To demonstrate simple statistical analysis skills such as organizing, classifying and drawing comparisons and conclusions.
  • To work co-operatively with other students to analyse, interpret, make inferences and draw conclusions from historical resources.
  • To skim and read a variety of graphs, charts and tables.
  • To communicate ideas and opinions in oral and written forms.
  • To use appropriate co-operative small-group learning skills.
  • To demonstrate an understanding of connections among factors that contribute to economic gains.
  • To understand and apply appropriate terminology.
  • To make simple arithmetical calculations from given sets of data.
  • To co-operatively plan and write a report based on their research.

Suggested grade levels and subject areas

History, Economics, Geography, Mathematics


15 to 30 minutes for introduction (steps 1 to 4)
90 to 100 minutes for exercises

Vocabulary (as used in the context of this lesson)

Base year – the year whose prices serve as a base for comparing prices in other years—e.g., production can be measured for the years 2002 to 2006 and valued at 2001 prices, allowing for comparisons that exclude inflation. This is also called the 'constant dollar' value of production.
Capital gain – the difference between the purchase price and the price received when an item such as real estate or stock is sold.
Capital goods – physical goods used in the production of capital—e.g., the plant facilities and robots used in producing and assembling cars.
Consumer Price Index – a measure of change in the price of a fixed basket of goods and services from month to month. A base year is used as a frame of reference.
Distribution of income – the degree to which the total income of a country is shared among the total population.
Gross domestic product (GDP) – a method by which a government measures the total value of all goods and services produced in a country in a given year, excluding price changes. It is calculated using prices from a base year.
Interrelationship – how two or more things are related or connected to one another.
Productivity – the quantity of output (production) per unit of productive input, including units of land, labour and capital—e.g., output per worker, machine or hectare of land.
Real income – income earned with inflation or price changes removed. An increase in real income represents an increase in purchasing power of the income.
Salary – employment income earned at a flat rate for a period of time (an amount per week, month or year).
Standard of living – the quality and quantity of goods and services available and the way these services and goods are distributed within a population.
Technological change – change resulting from the application of inventions, innovations and more efficient organization of production.
Wages – money paid for work, usually calculated by the hour or week.


Canada Year Book resources

1907 (PDF)

1916/1917 (PDF)

1927/1928 (PDF)

1937 (PDF)

1947 (PDF)

1957/1958 (PDF)

1967 (PDF)

Classroom instructions

  1. Draw two columns on the board: "Total spending" and "Total income."
  2. Have students fill the columns with individuals, groups or sectors of the economy that spend money in Canada. Lists should include everyday consumers, businesses, governments and tourists. How do people earn money in Canada? Students will identify wages and salaries, profits (including dividends and capital gains), interest, rent and transfer payments (government allowances, pensions, etc.).
  3. When the lists are complete, inform students that they have actually identified the major components of the gross domestic product (GDP) and that the GDP is the major instrument for measuring a nation's economic health and growth.
  4. Explain to students that they will be examining specific components of the GDP to determine how Canada grew economically between 1867 and 1967 and how Canadian society changed over those years.
  5. After the introduction, post and review an outline for the activity.
  6. Have students divide into groups and ensure they each have a copy of Student worksheet 1. These are their home groups:
    1. The role of the members of each home group is to prepare a written report for the Department of Canadian Heritage. They will role-play members of a federal government committee tasked with reporting on economic growth in Canada from 1867 to 1967 for the department. Students will be using the Canada Year Book from 1907 to 1967 for their explorations.
    2. Explain that each member of these home groups will become part of one of the five expert groups to conduct research independently on one aspect of the subtopic.
    3. They will meet with the rest of their expert group to share their particular research, confirm their findings and help make decisions about important points to take back to their home groups.
    4. Each student is to keep good records on their student worksheets 3 to 7, so that each has the same information to take back to their home group.
  7. Have home groups separate into expert groups. One way of doing this is by numbering students from one to five. All the ones are a particular expert group, the twos a different group and so on. For a more detailed explanation, see the Jigsaw / Organizational chart.
    1. Members of the expert groups will conduct and share their research findings.
    2. Provide members of each expert group with the appropriate worksheet:
      Group 1: Student worksheet 2 is about wages.
      Group 2: Student worksheet 3 is about prices.
      Group 3: Student worksheet 4 is for research into productivity.
      Group 4: Student worksheet 5 is for research into international trade.
      Group 5: Student worksheet 6 is about capital formation.
  8. Have students conduct research on computers to complete their worksheets.
  9. Have all expert group members share their findings with the others in their expert group to ensure that all have the information they need to take back to their home group.
    1. Students can record key points and conclusions on the backs of their worksheets.
  10. Have students return to their home groups.
  11. Have each member of the home group make an oral presentation of his or her findings to the others. Have students use Student worksheet 7 to take notes from other students' oral presentations.
  12. Have the members of the home groups identify and discuss relationships among the factors studied and draw conclusions about the importance of these factors to economic gains in Canada.
  13. Review the format for the reports and the assessment plan using Student worksheet 8 and the evaluation rubric. The focus of the reports is on economic gains and how they affected social development in Canada from 1867 to 1967.
  14. When they have reached appropriate conclusions in their home groups, have students plan and write their reports of 200 to 250 words.
  15. Debrief the experience. Ask students to share their findings and to recommend improvements in their group's skills and methods.
  16. Evaluate students using the evaluation rubric.


Collect the completed assignments and use the Evaluation rubric (printer-friendly format) for assessment.