Mapping Diaspora: Routes and Roots


This lesson involves having learners examine historical and cultural migrations of Africans  between Canada and the United States, both before the abolition of slavery and after.  It uses two texts in particular:  Carol Talbot, Growing Up Black in Canada (17-22) and Stanley Grizzle, My Name's Not George: the story of the Sleeping Car Porters in Canada, Chapter One.

Strand: Canada's links to the world (Geography Grade 6)


Lesson Plan Description:

The class will learn about the Underground Railway and its connection to Canadian immigration as well as the concept of a diaspora. The lesson will include detailed examination of a North American map and utilization of mapping skills.
Each student will follow one Underground Railway route from the Southern United States to a city in Canada and learn to identify the features of a diaspora.
Prior Knowledge Required:
Learners should have a general idea of the name of states and provinces. A general understanding of the Underground Railway as a route to freedom but not as a physical space related to a train service. The teacher should know various examples of diasporas, such as work diasporas, war refugees and religious diasporas.
Required Time: 3 sessions
Session 1: Read a general backgrounder on the Underground Railway that describes the experiences of Harriet Tubman and others that made the journey to Canada. Define all terms and complete short biographies of key individuals, conductors and abolitionists.
Session 2: Consult a map and trace the routes of several Underground Railway trips. Identify various states, cities and borders using a map of North America.
Session 3: Identify the topographical features of a diasporic journey along the Underground Railway and use keywords to describe a journey from the United States to Canada. Students will identify where their family and friends live in the United States and then outline a route to visit these individuals.
Planning Notes:

Materials required for the Teacher

Provide a clear map on the overhead projector in addition to the photocopied map if not clearly legible.

Assessment/Evaluation Description

Parks Canada Underground Railroad Online Resources
Map of the Underground Railroad, 1860

Discussion 1: As a warm up activity read a narrative of an escapee traveling on the UGRR.
Orientation: Focus students to the map. The assignment for each student is:

  1. To read the historical background handout
  2. To read and analyze extracts from Carol Talbot's Growing Up Black in Canada
  3. To create a map of the places in Canada/US where they have family currently living and create a route to meet visit them

Analysis: Drawing on the narratives read, students will analyze the many layers of risk undertaken by UGRR conductors, aids and passengers. Students will also analyze the length of travel using the map's scale and determine how best to convert these kilometers into time.
Reading and Vocabulary Comprehension: Students should read the narratives of UGRR passengers and those that assisted such as Abolitionist as detailed on the scholastic website. Students will define unfamiliar words such as diaspora and will complete any comprehension questions.


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