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Students will learn about an aspect of family life that was important in the early days of Canada but is not an issue today: infant survival. They will examine the decrease in the infant mortality rate from 1921 to 1964. They will use statistical tables to find the rates of children born and not surviving to their first birthday in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 2004, and will convert these to survival rates. Students will use the data to create bar charts and they will contribute data to a summary table and bar chart.


  • To locate information using historical documents.
  • To analyse, classify and interpret information from historical documents.
  • To read a variety of graphs, charts and tables for specific purposes.
  • To scan written text for specific information.
  • To make inferences and draw conclusions.
  • To communicate information using worksheets and bar charts.
  • To use vocabulary specific to the topic and theme.
  • To demonstrate an understanding of how life in Canada has changed since the early part of the 20th century.

Suggested grade level and subject areas

History, Mathematics, Social Studies, Family Studies


30 minutes for introduction (steps 1 to 5)
20 to 30 minutes for student worksheets (steps 6 and 7)
20 to 30 minutes for summary table, bar chart and discussion (steps 8 to 11)

Vocabulary (as used in the context of this lesson)

Infant – a child under 1 year of age.
Infant mortality rate – number of infants dying before their first birthday per 1,000 live births.
Infant survival rate - number of infants living past their first birthday per 1,000 live births.
Mortality – death.
Percentage of infant mortality – number of infants dying before their first birthday per 100 live births.
Percentage of infant survival – number of infants living past their first birthday per 100 live births.
Survival – living, staying alive.
Trend – a general tendency or pattern.


Canada Year Book resources

1927/1928 (PDF)

1947 (PDF)

1967 (PDF)

Current statistics at

Classroom instructions

  1. Present the following outline to the class:
    1. We will be investigating statistics on infant survival from 1921 to 1964 and for 2004 to see how it changed over the years.
    2. We'll be using four editions of the Canada Year Book online to find information, see trends and draw conclusions.
    3. We will make bar charts to show our findings. Then we will share our findings with the rest of the class to get a picture over time.
    4. We will brainstorm reasons to account for our observations.
  2. Tell the class that they will use data on infant mortality to learn about changes to families and determine infant survival rates. Draw Paul's family tree on the blackboard and explain that it was actually very common at that time for children to die as infants. Couples often had many babies, as they needed help working the land and they expected some to die before they reached the age of 1. Today, the vast majority of Canadian infants live past the age of 1 and grow into adults. We will look at some statistics to see how infant survival changed from 1922 to 1964.
  3. Discuss concepts and vocabulary with students.
    1. Ask students what they think is meant by 'infant,' 'mortality' and 'survival.'
    2. Provide definitions of these, of 'infant mortality rate' and of 'infant survival rate.'
    3. Ask students for a show of hands regarding the number of children in their families.
  4. Show students how to calculate the percentage of infant mortality for a given year. Use the following made-up example in your explanation: A table tells us that the infant mortality rate (the number of infants who died before reaching 1 year of age per 1,000 live births) for a certain year was 138. To calculate the percentage of infants that year who did not survive to 1 year of age (the number who died before reaching 1 year of age per 100 live births), divide 138 by 10 (i.e., move the decimal point one digit to the left) to get 13.8%. That means almost 14 of every 100 infants born that year died before their first birthday. Do this sort of calculation to get the percentages requested in your worksheet.  
  5. Show students how to calculate the survival rate by subtracting the mortality rate from 1,000, and the percentage of survival by subtracting the percentage of mortality from 100. The following example follows from the example in step 4:

    Mortality rate per 1,000 Survival rate per 1,000 Percentage that died before age 1 Percentage that survived past age 1
    138 (1,000-138)= 862 13.8% (100-13.8)=86.2%

  6. Divide students into three groups and give copies of one of the student worksheets to all students in each group. Explain that each group will be researching a different time period.
  7. Point out that some of the Canada Year Book tables use infant mortality rates (per 1,000 live births) and others use percentages (per 100 live births). Have students express the information as percentages for easier comparison, then convert mortality statistics to survival statistics.

    Allow students about 30 minutes to finish their worksheets, including collecting data and drawing graphs. Review the steps in creating bar charts, if necessary.
  8. When all groups have completed their worksheets, put the Summary worksheet on a projector. Direct students to fill in the data they have found and to post the three graphs.
  9. Have students discuss the picture the graphs show about rates of infant survival from 1922 to 1964 and for 2004. Point out that for some years, data were reported in terms of males and females, whereas for other years the data were reported only for 'infants' and not by sex.  Explain that they will use only infants (males + females) in the summary information for comparison purposes.
  10. To consolidate learning, have students help the teacher complete the graph on the Summary worksheet.
  11. Brainstorm with students some possible reasons for the huge increase in infant survival over the decades (e.g., inoculations, better nutrition, better hygiene, warmer homes, medical research, etc.).


Have students develop research questions about why infant survival increased so much. Direct students to the following editions and pages of the Canada Year Book to investigate why the rate of childhood diseases and other causes of death decreased: 1967, page 255; 1937, page 177; and 1927/1928, page 177, for more information.

Students may be interested in comparing rates of infant mortality from the 1960s with the most current rates available in Canada and their province. They'll find answers on the Statistics Canada website at > Summary tables > Tables by subject > Health > Measures of health.