Stories Within the Story

Revealing Macrohistory Themes of Canadians in the Northwest Europe Campaign through Microhistories.

The VEDay75 Lesson Plans are developed by, and courtesy of, Craig Brumwell.

Big Idea

The actions of individuals told in stories are considered contributions when they are shown to be part of the greater narrative of the Northwest Europe Campaign.

Inquiry Question

How are ‘Story-Maps’ an effective commemoration tool to recognize the contributions of Canadians in Northwest Europe 1944-45?

Overall description

In this lesson, students examine how the actions of individuals become regarded as contributions worthy of commemoration through the analysis of three focus story maps on the Project 44 site. They first consider the world if the Allies had lost to Nazi Germany, connect human experiences during the Second World War to current day conflicts, compare and rank the significance of the actions of individuals in the story maps and connect their contributions to narratives in the modules.

Time Needed

120 minutes

Competencies and Skills

Students will use the historical thinking concepts and critical thinking strategies to:


Minds On

What If Nazi Germany Won the Second World War?

Counterfactuals are questions that challenge the common student perception that historical outcomes are inevitable, or “just meant to happen.” They ask the question “what if?” Students are given the task of suggesting different outcomes to historical events. The teaching challenge is to focus the activity on plausible outcomes based on evidence rather more imaginative possibilities that students may suggest.

In order for students to appreciate and understand the significance of the accomplishments that Canadian and Allied forces made from D-Day to the Liberation of the Netherlands, it is important for them to consider how different the world would be if they were not successful.

Write or project the following question at the front of the room:

“What actions would the Nazis have taken in Canada if they had won the war?”

Small Group Discussions

Hand-out Worksheet 1: Counterfactuals: “What If?”, Part A to students in small groups of 2 to 4. Ask them to respond to the counterfactual question based on what they know about what the Nazi did in the countries they occupied during the war from on of 3 perspectives: political, social, cultural and economic. Discuss their responses as a class when they are done, focusing on their rationale.

Statistics Press and Organizations of Jewry in the United States and Canada, by Heinz Kloss is a book discovered in Hitler’s private library after the war. It is a detailed census of the Jewish populations and organizations in North American cities and was acquired by Library and Archives Canada in 2019. The book is regarded by many to be a blueprint for implementing the final solution on this continent following a Nazi victory.

Project or print the following website on the Kloss book:

CBC News: Hitler book maps ‘Final Solution in Canada’ Library and Archives Canada curator says

Government of Canada: Library and Archives Canada acquires rare book once belonging to Adolf Hitler

Teachers Note: Kloss’s book title is a good example of how the meaning of words can change according to context, usage and time period. “Jewry” – a collective term for the Jewish population of a country or region – was used by the Nazis to promote their antisemitic lies and myths that Jews were an inferior race, conspiring to destroy German society and control the world. Sensitize students that it continues to carry racist connotations today in some contexts and should be avoided.

Ask students to return to their small groups and complete Part B. This activity focuses their attention on responding to the counterfactual question with and evidence-based, plausible response that the Nazis were planning to murder the Jewish population in North America if they had gained administrative control of the governments in Canada and the United States.

Review the responses as a class when the groups are finished. Compare the responses to the counterfactual question in Part A of Worksheet 1 to Part B. Emphasize how evidence strengthens the plausibility of the response in Part B.


Part 1

The Experience of War

Activity 1

Explain to students that history is an interpretation of the past “constructed” (built) and communicated through meaningful stories, or narratives. Contemporary narratives for VE Day 75: Normandy to the Netherlands are explored through the modules of this project. The meaning of these narratives is informed by evidence and connected to themes.

Historians interpret evidence of how civilians and military personnel respond to the adversities of regional and global conflict. This activity focuses on recognizing how the stories of Canadian servicemen and women in the Northwest Europe Campaign connect to greater human experiences during war:

  • survival
  • resistance
  • defiance
  • resilience
  • bravery
  • the strength of the human spirit.

Ask students in pairs or small groups to select one of the story maps on the Project 44: Road to Liberation map featuring the journey of 3 Canadians and read through the interactive story. When they are done, ask them to discuss the story and identify where and how they see the identified experiences reflected by the individual in the story. Ask them to identify which 2 experiences that they feel are most evident.

Post the experiences on paper around the room and ask each member of the group to stand under the one of the top 2 that they identified. Ask 3 students representing each individual to provide a brief overview of the story. Ask one student under each experience to describe how it is depicted in the story map. Encourage students under the same theme poster to contribute to the description.

Direct students back to their desks and read through the 2 story maps they did not review.

Question for Discussion:

Where do we see these experiences in recent and ongoing global and regional conflicts? What are the consequences for societies whose populations have experienced war?

Teachers Note: Students may identify examples such as Afghanistan, Syria or Somalia. Possible consequences include radicalization of youth, mass migration and regime change.

Part 2

Actions, Significance & Contributions

Students examine how the public recognizes the contributions of Canadian servicemen and women by connecting the individual actions of selected individuals to the broader operations that lead to victory in Europe.

Different types of actions have been recognized as contributions after the war. At the time, individuals would have regarded their actions as responses to orders, given on missions, that described the objectives of an operation. Unit operations were coordinated into larger operations that collectively were known as campaigns.

Activity 2

Comparing Significance

It is helpful to compare the significance of the actions of Canadians featured in the story maps in order for students to recognize different types of contributions.

The modules provide important contextual information to help students understand the time period. Allow them time to read the modules that relate to the Canadian in their focus story map:

Charles Byce: Canadian Army

Mona Parsons: Occupation and Resistance

Philip Pochailo: Royal Canadian Air Force

Note to Teachers: The remaining modules provide greater context for the Northwest Europe campaign and should be included if time permits. They are: The Race to Antwerp, The Battle of the Scheldt, The Battle of the Rhineland, The Liberation of the Netherlands, and Aftermath and Remembrance.

Ask students to re-read their story map from Part 1 and focus on their subject’s actions, reactions and consequences related to their “object” (task ordered), mission (including objectives) and operation (coordinated actions taken by units).

Worksheet 2: Comparing Significance provides a means for students to identify main actions from their story map, then analyze their significance based on 3 criteria: importance at the time, consequences and subsequent profile. In the final step, they rank and explain the significance of their subject’s actions.


Hand-out the Reflection Sheet:

Reflection: Recognizing Actions as Contributions

Step into the role of an historian and describe how the top ranked action for your focus individual in Worksheet 2 can be recognized as a contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Small Groups Share:

Re-form the students into groups of 3 so that each member represents a different story map, then and ask them to share their responses to the reflection question.

Class Discussion:

Conclude the lesson with a class-based discussion of the reflection questions to provide the opportunity for students to further share their learning, understanding and ideas. Pose the question of how civilian Mona Parson’s contributions differed from those of servicemen Byce and Pochailo based on the criteria in Worksheet 3.

Extension Activity:

Conduct a class discussion on the following topic:

Can one person make a contribution to “Liberation,” or does it require civic or military action for success?


Worksheet 1: Counterfactuals: “What If?”

In Worksheet 1 students will explore counterfactual questions and be asked to imagine, based on evidence, a world with an alternative ending to the Second World War. Students will assess the plausibility of events based on social, political, and economic viewpoints, and review sources to answer the question “what if?”

Download Worksheet 1: Counterfactuals: “What if?”

Worksheet 2: Comparing Significance

Worksheet 2 gives students the opportunity to select an individual from the Story Maps and compare the significance of their actions. Students will be asked to think critically about the impacts of the individuals actions towards achieving a mission, an objective, or an operation. Topics of remembrance and historical understanding are also addressed as students delve deeper into events in order to comprehend the broader historical context.

Reflection: Recognizing Actions as Contributions

Step into the role of an historian and describe how the top ranked action for your focus individual in Worksheet 3 can be recognized as a contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Download Lesson 2 in full.

The VEDay75 Lesson Plans are developed by, and courtesy of, Craig Brumwell.