Geography assignment

Teaching the geographies of Canada: Reflections on
pedagogy, curriculum, and the politics of teaching
and learning
Nicole Lalibert�e
Department of Geography, University of Toronto Mississauga
John Paul Catungal
Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice, University of British Columbia
Heather Castleden
Department of Geography and Department of Public Health Sciences, Queen’s University
Arn Keeling
Department of Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Bernard Momer
Department of Geography, University of British Columbia Okanagan
Catherine Nash
Department of Geography, Brock University
Key Messages
� This paper is a collection of commentaries on teaching the geographies of Canada which together
challenge traditional regional approaches from a variety of perspectives and politics.
� It examines the politics of active learning, teaching resources, and received curricula while
highlighting the embodied nature of the classroom environment.
� It concludes that regional geography courses are an opportunity to challenge received knowledge if
we are attentive to positionality and power in our classrooms—not only our own but also that of our
students and the texts we engage with.
Presented as a collection of commentaries on teaching the geographies of Canada, this paper grows out of a
panel session on the same topic at the Canadian Association of Geographers conference in 2014. In the
stories and analyses provided, contributors challenge many assumptions of what a “Geography of Canada”
course should look like. We not only challenge traditional regional approaches, we also reimagine the role of
active learning, the disciplining process of creating textbooks, the geographies of ignorance related to
Aboriginal issues, and the embodied nature of the teaching experience. Our contributions are not purely
theoretical; they are based on our experiences in the classroom and our active attempts to change the
narratives and environments our students engage with. Collectively, we do not propose the removal of
regional geography courses from the undergraduate curriculum. Rather, we see such courses as an
opportunity to challenge received knowledge of what a region is, of what “Canada” is. Approaching our
Correspondence to/Adresse de correspondence: Nicole Lalibert�e, Department of Geography, University of Toronto Mississauga, 3359
Mississauga Road, Toronto, ON L5L 1C6. Email/Courriel:
The Canadian Geographer / Le G�eographe canadien 2015, 59(4): 519–531
DOI: 10.1111/cag.12236
© 2015 Canadian Association of Geographers / L’ Association canadienne des g�eographes
teaching in this manner is an opportunity to expose students to alternative geographic pedagogies,
knowledges, and imaginaries.
Keywords: pedagogy, Geography of Canada, regional geography, teaching
L’enseignement de la diversit�e g�eographique du Canada : consid�erations sur la p�edagogie, les
programmes d’�etudes et les politiques d’enseignement et d’apprentissage
Prenant la forme d’un recueil de commentaires sur l’enseignement de la diversit�e g�eographique du Canada,
cet article r�esulte d’un d�ebat d’experts consacr�e �a ce th�eme qui s’est tenu dans le cadre de l’�edition 2014 du
congr�es annuel de l’Association canadienne des g�eographes. Les r�ecits et analyses que les participants ont
communiqu�es �ebranlent les nombreuses suppositions qui fondent le cours de « g�eographie du Canada ».
Nous avons non seulement mis au d�efi les approches r�egionales traditionnelles, mais avons repens�e
�egalement le mode d’apprentissage actif, le processus didactique de la conception de manuels scolaires,
l’ignorance g�eographique relative aux questions autochtones, et la nature intrins�eque de l’exp�erience
d’enseignement. Notre r�eflexion ne se limite pas aux aspects th�eoriques, mais tire parti de nos exp�eriences
dans la salle de classe et des efforts soutenus que nous d�eployons pour faire �evoluer les r�ecits et les
environnements auxquels sont expos�es nos �etudiants. Dans l’ensemble, nous n’adh�erons pas �a l’id�ee de
retirer les cours de g�eographie r�egionale du programme d’�etudes de premier cycle. En revanche, nous
sommes plutôt d’avis que ce cours pr�esente une possibilit�e de remettre en question les d�efinitions
g�en�eralement admises de ce que constitue une r�egion, voire le « Canada ». Une telle d�emarche d’enseigne-
ment est une occasion �a saisir afin de pr�esenter aux �etudiants des approches p�edagogiques, des
connaissances et des conceptions novatrices de la g�eographie.
Mots cl�es : p�edagogie, g�eographie du Canada, g�eographie r�egionale, enseignement
In early 2014, we (Nicole Lalibert�e and John Paul
Catungal) organized a panel session for the Canadi-
an Association of Geographers (CAG) conference
focusing on the politics and practices of teaching
“Geography of Canada,” a course found in most
undergraduate Geography programs in Canadian
universities. We designed this panel as an extension
of our own conversations about our own teaching in
which we discussed how our respective histories,
positionalities, and embodiments mattered in the
classroom as they influenced how we designed our
courses, what issues and themes we wanted to
emphasize, what material we assigned, how we
delivered the course content, and how the course
was received by students. We were curious to hear
from other instructors of Geography of Canada at
other universities about their pedagogical, curricu-
lar, and political practices in delivering such a
This paper grows out of the aforementioned 2014
CAG panel. Both at the panel and in preparation for
this paper, we asked contributors to consider some
or all of the following set of seemingly simple
guiding questions: What are we trying to accomplish
in our courses? Whose geographies are we teaching?
Who is in the room and why does it matter? As it
turns out, these questions were far from straight-
forward, and they produced a wealth of diverse and
complex responses.
The sections that follow, written by individual
contributors to reflect their own teaching experi-
ences and practices, demonstrate a collective
desire to move beyond the standard regional
approach epitomized by Robert M. Bone’s (2014)
commonly used textbook The regional geography
of Canada. The variety of ways in which this is
accomplished, however, gives us a sense of the
multiplicity of priorities and goals of those
teaching Geography of Canada. Each contributor
identifies different interventions they seek to
enact in their teaching, including actively problem-
atizing master-narratives of Canadian nationalism,
re-orienting the passive learning model of course
delivery, and producing teaching materials within
the discipline that represent marginalized stories
and geographies of Canada.
Many of the commentaries engage directly with
the issue of whose geographies are taught in
Geography of Canada courses. They highlight that
course curriculum design is a political practice that
The Canadian Geographer / Le G�eographe canadien 2015, 59(4): 519–531
520 Nicole Lalibert�e et al.
can serve to privilege certain geographic imagina-
ries of Canada while downplaying or erasing others.
Collectively, the commentaries force us to ask
ourselves what socio-spatial stories of Canada are
being perpetuated or challenged through our
teaching. What are the geographic imaginaries of
the nation we are contributing to? The commentar-
ies that follow are examples of the lines of inquiry
that might open up when we make these questions
central to our reflexive inquiries about our teaching
By asking who is in the classroom (and in other
spaces of teaching and learning the geographies of
Canada), the contributors also force us to examine
the embodied practices of knowledge production in
relation to our courses. This work demands a
perspective on the Geography of Canada classroom
as an assemblage of bodies, discourses, and objects
whose interactions are filtered through various axes
of difference, a project that extends already existing
conversations in this journal on critical pedagogical
practices (see The Canadian Geographer special
issue edited by McCreary et al. 2013). For some
contributors, this means activating a different social
configuration of the classroom in order to decentre
the sage-on-the-stage approach, emphasizing the
experiences and knowledges students bring to
collaborative learning processes. For other contrib-
utors, this means reckoning with questions of
privilege and authority as they are associated with
embodied experiences of race, class, ethnicity,
gender, sexual orientation, and age—of both the
teachers and students—in the Geography of Canada
classroom (as in any classroom). As some of our
contributors show below, both students and teach-
ers are literally bodies of knowledge who, depend-
ing on their positionalities, bring with them
sometimes conflicting understandings of—and in-
vestments in—the “nation.” The Geography of
Canada classroom is thus greatly influenced by its
own social geographies—the positionalities and
embodiments of those in the room.
In the stories and analyses that follow, contributors
challenge many assumptions of what a Geography of
Canada course should look like. We not only challenge
traditional regional approaches (Catungal, Castleden,
Momer), we also reimagine the role of active learning
(Keeling), the disciplining process of creating text-
books (Nash), the geographies of ignorance related to
Aboriginal issues (Castleden), and the embodied
nature of the teaching experience (Nash and
Catungal). Our contributions are not purely theoreti-
cal; they are also based on our experiences in the
classroom and our active attempts to broaden
the narratives and environments our students engage
with. Collectively, we do not propose the removal of
regional geography courses from undergraduate
curriculum. Rather, following Wei (2006), we see
such courses as an opportunity to challenge received
knowledge of what a region is, of what “Canada” is.
Approaching our teaching in this manner is an
opportunity to expose students to alternative geo-
graphic pedagogies, knowledges, and imaginaries.
Beyond the “region”: Towards the
pluralisation of Canadian geographies
(Bernard Momer)
While studying its regions provides a logical frame-
work to learn about Canada’s human and physical
diversity, I would argue that a traditional regional
approach does not provide students with a good
grasp of the country’s contemporary geography.
Following the structure of the two most popular
textbooks on the subject, both based on regionalism,
left my students and I wanting something different
(for more on the politics of textbooks, see Nash’s
contribution below). My discontent with the course
content and its structure led me to ponder whether
what I was teaching was useful or not. Would my
course prepare students to become global citizens as
explicitly stated in my university’s equity goals (UBC
2012, 6)? Teaching students about social justice,
sustainability, promoting an understanding of social
diversity, and working with others to promote
positive change in a globalizing world (Brigham
2011; Hammell et al. 2015), is perhaps best achieved
by contextualizing Canada within this world rather
than anchoring the course’s structure to a traditional
regional approach. My intentions are not to clamour
the death of regional geography (Thrift 1994), or to
reopen the debate that raged about the nature of the
field during the late 1980s and 1990s (Johnston et al.
1990; Thrift 1990; Holm�en 1995; Crowley 1999) but
simply to reconsider, or perhaps simply tweak this
There are two main issues with following a purely
regional approach. Beginning the course with a
description of the physiography of the country
sounded counterproductive. While the Canadian
identity is partly constructed in an imaginary rooted
The Canadian Geographer / Le G�eographe canadien 2015, 59(4): 519–531
Teaching the geographies of Canada 521
in the country’s stunning natural landscapes,
Canadians live in an urbanized country. The land
of the great outdoors with its natural resources still
plays an important role in the economy. However, it
could be argued that it no longer defines us.
A second issue with the traditional regional
structure I had followed for many years is that
culture is often treated largely as a dependent
variable. A region doesn’t define a culture; a
people’s culture defines and creates regions. The
Canadian mosaic is the product of consensuses
resulting from our differences, of the tensions
between east and west, between urban and rural,
between indigenous peoples, long-term residents,
and new immigrants. Our Canadianness is more
than just being not American. It is the product of a
journey, of a constant self-questioning; it is the
product of a process more than a destination.
Canadian culture is no longer limited to localized
constituencies (Holman and Thacker 2013), so why
should we continue to teach the geography of
Canada as an examination of a discrete collection
of parts?
I wanted to teach the Geographies of Canada. I
wanted to explain the continuum that is Canada by
placing all its residents at the centre of the
curriculum. I also wanted to avoid the uncritical
usage of the “core-periphery” approach used in
Bone (2014), partly to highlight the negative conno-
tation associated with the terms (e.g., periphery as
superficial and core as central or most important),
but more importantly, to emphasize the need to re-
evaluate the traditional assumptions pertaining to
this approach (Stadel 2009). One may argue that this
dualism connotes a hierarchical geography which is,
perhaps, unCanadian (even perhaps against my
institution’s equity value?).
To that end, a new approach was sought to teach
my Geography of Canada course. Although it
remains a work in progress, the following is a
summary of my course redesign. The first section of
the course situates Canada in a global context; it
examines what makes Canada demographically,
culturally, economically, and politically different
than other nations. The latter is especially critical to
deconstructing the geo-political regional bound-
aries. How can one stray from defining the Atlantic
Coast as the Maritime Provinces or the West Coast as
British Columbia?
The second section of the course covers
Canada’s population distribution. An overview
of the contemporary Canadian urban system is
followed by an examination of its changing
configuration since the 1970s. This allows us to
question the effectiveness of the heartland-hin-
terland approach to explain the development of
the Canadian urban system (Filion 2010), consider
immigration patterns and their impact on the
ethnic composition of cities (Murdie 2008; Yosh-
ida 2012), and examine the growth of megaurban
regions (Simmons and Bourne 2013). Finally,
population distribution cannot be discussed
without examining how transportation systems
and government policies, influenced by national
objectives, have shaped and continually reshape
Canadian geography (Transportation Association
of Canada 2014). Once students understand the
Canadian urban system, the needs of its popula-
tion are considered and the mobilizing, genera-
tive, and transformative functions of cities are
examined. Students are challenged to think about
the role of cities in transforming, using, and
distributing our natural resources as well as the
tensions, whether cultural or economic, that exist
within and between urban and rural areas.
The third section examines the origin of these
resources and considers Canada’s physical geography
within the cultural and economic context that allowed
theseresourcestobeextractedsince thenation’searly
days. Students examine resource extraction, from
mining to agriculture to fishing followed by the
distribution of these resources through the country’s
industrial landscape and contemporary transporta-
cities to wrap up the course.
By structuring my course in this fashion, I wanted
to provide a contemporary snapshot of Canada’s
geographies and move away from a deterministic
perspective whereby the challenging physiography
and natural resources location seemed like the only
factors that shaped its geographies. It is through
determination, curiosity, and a desire to discover
and exploit the natural resources this land has to
offer that a country was forged. My other goal,
evidently, was to present my students with interest-
ing material that would foster an understanding of
the geographies of Canada and force them to
reconsider what they know about Canada by
demonstrating that a nation is always in flux,
economically, culturally, politically, and socially.
Teaching students how many wheat bushels are
produced in Saskatchewan or how many ounces of
The Canadian Geographer / Le G�eographe canadien 2015, 59(4): 519–531
522 Nicole Lalibert�e et al.
gold are extracted in Ontario did not accomplish
this. So, while regional geography is perhaps forever
tied to the identity of geography (Wei 2006), we
should not allow uncritical regional analyses to
shape how we introduce students to the multiple
and complex geographies of Canada.
Producing “Canada” in textbook writing:
A commentary (Catherine Nash)
In this commentary, I consider the possibilities and
challenges of developing a first year introductory
textbook based on the “Canadianization” of an
American-based text, Human geography: People,
place, and culture (2nd Canadian edition). One of the
opportunities provided in the reworking of the
Human geography text was to incorporate material
foregrounding how geography as a discipline has
made considerable contributions to scholarship
that seeks to address current issues including
research on climate change, environmental justice,
immigration and multiculturalism, Aboriginal is-
sues, and questions related to social identities
underpinning social relations—gender, race, age,
class, sexual/gender orientation, religion. To ensure
these concerns remained visible throughout the
text, such ideas were woven throughout each
chapter rather than segregated into little text boxes
or sidebars on topics such as “women’s suffrage” or
“Chinese men and the building of the Canadian
railway,” for example. Contemporary Canadian and
global examples serve to illustrate the merits of a
geographical perspective—examples as diverse as
Tanzanian hip hop music, gender inequalities in
international labour, Canadian Aboriginal issues,
racialized neighbourhoods in Toronto, or class-
related access to social services.
The second edition was completed in March 2015
and as part of the review process, individual
chapters were sent out to three reviewers. While
most of the reviews were very favourable, providing
constructive suggestions for improving the text,
several reviewers’ comments illustrate an intellec-
tual divide that exists around the nature of geogra-
phy as a subject and how it should be taught. The
remainder of the commentary will explore two
related themes surfacing in reviewers’ comments
that reflect a hostility towards a particular approach
to teaching geography—whether geography as a
discipline is ‘political’ or should have a ‘political’
perspective and whether issues of social justice are
appropriate concerns for a first-year text.
One concern expressed by reviewers revealed an
anxiety that any mention of feminist and/or radical
geographies would be off-putting to students in
ways that made the material difficult to teach. One
reviewer commented that they “have found stu-
dents to be very resistant to what they would term
‘feminist geography’” and any material on gender
needs to be presented in a way that “does not get
them defensive.” This is in keeping with a substan-
tial body of scholarship demonstrating that there
can be serious resistance to feminist-based scholar-
ship both from colleagues and students (McDowell
1992; Oberhauser 2002; Webber 2006). So while
most reviewers seemed comfortable with teaching
about spatialized inequalities related to gender,
race, or sexual orientation, expressly naming femi-
nist or queer scholarship as the foundation for these
critiques was seen as problematic and potentially
divisive. These comments illustrate how we, as
instructors, experience hostility and discomfort in a
classroom through even the most innocuous men-
tion of particular conceptual or theoretical frame-
works. As I have argued elsewhere, raising certain
issues can be extremely stressful and anxiety
provoking for some faculty, particularly when class
evaluations are so important for early career
academics and avoiding certain topics, no matter
how important or relevant, may seem the wiser
course (Nash 2010; see also Nast 1999; Rocco and
Gallagher 2006; Webber 2006).
For one reviewer, making issues related to race,
sexuality, gender, and/or class visible through the
text was notably disagreeable. The reviewer also
suggested that the chapter “[n]eeds to be rewritten
from the beginning by someone familiar with Social
Geography and without any axes to grind.” Given the
reviewer knew who the author was and could
ascertain the author’s research interests, it is
reasonable to understand the comment as a person-
al attack on the author’s expertise and profession-
alism. In commenting on both the social and cultural
chapters, the reviewer called the author’s efforts
“pathetic,” arguing there was “far too much whining
about unfairness to women and to non-white
people. I do not for one moment deny that this
unfairness has existed and continues to exist. But
this is supposed to be a geography text, not political
sociology.” This quote highlights continued divi-
sions regarding the political nature of the discipline
The Canadian Geographer / Le G�eographe canadien 2015, 59(4): 519–531
Teaching the geographies of Canada 523
of geography in terms of the production of
knowledge as well as what we choose to teach and
The same reviewer also commented there was “a
bit of a tendency to want to slip in feminist/gay/
lesbian ideas that are not very appropriate in this
context (I am neither male chauvinist nor homopho-
bic, but these topics seem to have become a bit of a
King Charles’ Head [see David Copperfield] in this
book).” The comment appears to reflect the re-
viewer’s discomfort with the visibility of gender as
well as lesbian and gay issues throughout the text.
As scholarship has noted, often the merest mention
(perhaps once) of feminist (or queer) perspectives
can be perceived as talking about it “all the time”
even though the reference might be modest or
innocuous (Khayatt 1992; Overall 1998). While
questions of race, class, and gender surfaced in
some form or another across a number of chapters,
it was the uncomfortable visibility of LGBT refer-
ences that felt particularly egregious to this review-
er. Arguably, the visibility and contestations around
contemporary LGBT issues in the United States as
well as in places such as Russia and Uganda make it
difficult not to make some reference to these
globally circulating (and highly inflammatory)
Also notable are the reviewer’s attempts to deflect
accusations that s/he might be perceived as homo-
phobic through claims about being open-minded,
and having daughters and a multi-cultural family.
Claims for the validity of one’s position based on
personal attributes raises important questions
about visibility and embodiment in the classroom
and in the authorship of texts (as well as academic
articles). Students and colleagues may make (unfair)
assumptions about the “neutrality” or “bias” of an
individual based on their embodied presentation
and/or research interests while ignoring the priv-
ileged assumptions accruing to the normatively
gendered, white male. For those instructors who are
racialized, gendered, or sexualized in particular
ways—where their identities are embodied and
understood within a certain system of meaning—it
can be very difficult to approach certain topics in the
classroom and “strategic passing” might be a
required choice to gain professional acceptance
(Martin and Brown 2013, 383). The same difficulty
appears to have arisen here, where the inclusion of
certain topics related to gender and sexuality
becomes suspect given my research interests and
despite the fact that these topics have a similar
visibility in other Canadian texts.
Taken together, these examples illustrate how the
production of undergraduate texts is itself con-
tested in ways that reflect particular political and
social conflicts. They further reflect one of the
overarching themes addressed in this paper about
exactly whose geographies are taught in Geography
of Canada courses. Rendering visible the distinctive
socio-spatial experiences of particular groups can
challenge dominant or “traditional” understandings
of how places and spaces are experienced and this,
in turn, can trouble those for whom such ap-
proaches are unfamiliar. Finally, it is difficult to
assess whether the deep hostility of one reviewer is
an anomaly or representative of a wider contingent
of scholars who find such approaches unsettling.
Nevertheless, collective projects such as this ensure
open discussion and debate as well as opportunities
for support and encouragement particularly for
those in departments where negative views are
prevalent or awareness of these teaching difficulties
remain unacknowledged.
Reconfiguring regions and the
Geography of Canada classroom (Arn
As I have written previously (Keeling 2008), I
undertook developing and delivering Geography of
Canada as a team- and problem-based learning
course, with the aims of both revitalizing and
reimagining the standard “regional” approach to
teaching undergraduate Canadian geography, and
experimenting with active learning approaches
aimed at stimulating greater student engagement
and better learning outcomes. Offered at the third-
year level at Memorial University, this class typically
enrols about 40––45 students, a mix of majors and
minors. My version of the course aims (perhaps para-
doxically) to challenge the reification of “regions” in
our understanding of Canadian geography by orga-
nizing course teams around the conventionally
defined regions ofCanada. In opting to retain regions
as an organizing principle overlain by thematic
inquiries undertaken by student teams, the course
provides an opportunity for students to think not
just about “where things are” but also draws on
contemporary reworkings of the notion of region to
get students “to think about the why behind the
The Canadian Geographer / Le G�eographe canadien 2015, 59(4): 519–531
524 Nicole Lalibert�e et al.
where, or the factors that account for the patterns
they see in the world” (Keeling 2008, 4; see also
Fournier 2002; Wade 2006). Pedagogically, these
process and content goals are interrelated: by
engaging students in active, inquiry-based learning
processes such as team- and problem-based learning
(Livingstone and Lynch 2000; Fournier 2002;
Spronken-Smith 2005; Pawson et al. 2006), I hope
to promote the acquisition, evaluation, and retention
of geographical concepts such as region, place, and
environment while promoting general knowledge of
Canadian geography.
To this end, I divide the class into between six and
eight regions, and students selected to “represent”
their region remain in these groups for most of the
geographical “problems” from the perspective of their
region, to undertake research and reporting around
these problems, and to share their results with other
groups. The goal is for students to develop regional
“expertise” while, through sharing activities, they
begin to problematize their own region and under-
stand the shared nature of many of the issues, as well
as the multiple scales and geographies within which
they are manifested and experienced. Past “problem”
modules have focused on Aboriginal issues, environ-
mental challenges, and demographic change, each
physical, historical, economic, and social geography of
Canada. We use the standard Canadian regional
geography textbook, Bone’s The regional geography
of Canada, mainly as a primer on the regions for each
the general research problem.
To foster the benefits of team-based learning,
considerable class time is devoted to team activities,
including research meetings, feedback sessions,
and sharing sessions. This inevitably constrains
the amount of content and the number of issues and
concepts that could be addressed in the course.
Nevertheless, the class time devoted to team
activities and classroom engagement enhances the
role of the students themselves and directors of
their learning, and reduces their reliance on the
instructor as the “sage on the stage.” It also
emphasizes the relationships amongst the students
themselves, putting them into teamwork settings
that more closely resemble many workplace and
other collaborative environments rather than the
individually based effort and evaluation of most
university instruction.
My initial experiences have been mostly positive:
the goals of promoting student engagement and
even empowerment in the classroom have been
largely met, in spite of initial student reluctance and
uncertainly about this model. Students learned to
work together (and not just with their friends) and
collaborate to produce research-based reports for
evaluation and exchange—important skills they
need for upper-year courses and life beyond.
Some students reported they understood key
content and concepts better because of the inter-
actions they had with fellow students, and that their
retention of the material was enhanced through the
process of generating and analyzing it. The class-
room was often a hive of discussion and interaction
—often times, I floated around group tables or
facilitated class discussions more as a resource
person rather than being the focus of student
Nevertheless, there remain challenges in the
team/problem-based learning format. The benefits
of collaboration noted above are sometimes offset
by the well-known challenges of group dynamics,
the “free-rider” problem, and pre-existing negative
perceptions of “group work.” My sense is that many
students are deeply conditioned to “transmission”
model learning, whether in secondary school or
university courses, and may be resistant to the very
different demands and dynamics of team/problem-
based learning. Contemporary students often find
themselves strongly time constrained, juggling
classes, paid work, and extra-curricular activities,
making collaboration outside of class time (for
instance, to prepare reports) difficult. My courses
use online learning technologies to facilitate asyn-
chronous group communication and collaboration,
but ironically, students have tended to abandon
these in favour of Facebook and other social media
systems (which do not always overcome the time
crunch or communication problems).
From my own perspective, I have grown somewhat
less cavalier about discarding content in favour of
process. I find many students arrive in class with an
alarmingly low level of general knowledge about
Canadian geography and current events, which
hampers them in developing their advanced region-
al expertise and discussing geographical problems
in class. Most of the students in my classes are
Newfoundlanders or other Atlantic Canadians (al-
though this generalization is underlain by many
other kinds of diversity). Many do bring personal or
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Teaching the geographies of Canada 525
family experience of other parts of Canada, but
many basic aspects of Canadian history and geog-
raphy are not well known. For instance, general
knowledge of Aboriginal geographies or environ-
mental issues in other parts of Canada is very slight.
While my approach provides students some knowl-
edge of key issues and facts (about their region,
especially), I remain uncertain about how much
general understanding of Canadian geography is
fostered through their interchanges. To address
these knowledge gaps, I use lectures and readings to
both inform and problematize the Canadian nation.
In this sense, I have partially returned to my role
(responsibility?) in determining relevant or core
knowledge, while still hoping that students, through
their research, engage in their own discovery of key
issues and questions in Canadian geography.
In sum, using the team- and problem-based
learning model opens up fruitful avenues for
individual and collective reflection on the “who,
what, and why” of Canadian regional geography. In
my experience, this format meets important goals of
promoting student engagement and research skills,
while fostering an understanding of “regional
formation as a dynamic historical geographical
process” (Pudup 1988, 380) and, indeed, question-
ing basic assumptions about Canada itself. While
struggling to some extent with what might be
considered deficits in knowledge and understand-
ing, the problem-based approach also aims to build
on and enhance students’ capacities, as learners and
as citizens of their classroom and country.
Decolonizing how we teach the
Geography of Canada (Heather
While I do not teach a Geography of Canada course per
se, I do teach courses about the geographies of
Canada. It is through my experiences in these courses
that I approach this commentary, particularly my
experiences co-teaching a field school on Indigenous
Perspectives of Resource and Environmental Manage-
ment. Wanting to be explicit about my positionality
here, I note that I have “taught” this course as a white
settler scholar-ally, thus I approached my role as a
facilitator, bringing (mainly white) students to Indige-
nous communities to be with and learn from Indige-
nous teachers in formal, informal, and non-formal
the lack of awareness amongst our country’s next
generation of intellectuals regarding Canadian histor-
ical and contemporary Indigenous geographies of
space and place. Somehow, throughout their entire
secondary and post-secondary education (geographic
things like Historic Treaties, the Indian Act, forced
relocation to Indian Reserves, Indian Residential
Schools, the Sixties Scoop, the Royal Commission on
Aboriginal Peoples, Comprehensive Land Claims
(Modern Treaties), the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission, or reclaiming Indigenous Toponymy. I
should not have been too surprised, as other
geographers have documented this ignorance (e.g.,
Godlewska et al. 2010). But these events have shaped
and are ever-shaping Canadian geography. Thus, my
Geography of Canada is that it must include teaching
“Indigenous Geographies of Canada” from pre-colo-
nial to the (colonial) present.
As I and others (e.g., Godlewska and Smith 1994;
Louis 2007; Powell 2008; Painter and Jeffrey 2009;
Castleden et al. 2013) have pointed out, geography,
as a discipline, is implicated in the colonial policies
and practices that make up Canada as we know
(read: “mainstream” know) it today. Whether it has
been through the remapping of Indigenous geo-
political borders or the renaming of Indigenous
places to reflect European ones to the creation of
segregated spaces (Indian reserves) and spaces of
“you will be stereotyped before treated here”
(hospital emergency rooms), geography has played
a role. Yet despite the power and influence of settler
geographies in Canada, Indigenous geographies
have socially, culturally, economically, politically,
and physically inscribed this landscape for thou-
sands of years and they continue to do so, albeit at
the margins for the past 400þ years, at least until
the recent past as we are starting to see a resurgence
in this area. For example, in 2014, the Supreme
Court of Canada came to a unanimous decision to
uphold a First Nation’s claim to Aboriginal land title
(Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia); this is
the first time such a decision has been reached by
the highest (colonial) court of the land. It is worth
mention, however, that while title was recognized by
our (colonial) judiciary system, it was only to a
portion of the territory claimed in the case and a
fraction of their original traditional territory. In any
case, by excluding comprehensive coverage from
the historic to the modern when it comes to
The Canadian Geographer / Le G�eographe canadien 2015, 59(4): 519–531
526 Nicole Lalibert�e et al.
Indigenous geographies, when we teach and learn
about the geography of Canada, whether by inten-
tion or design, we are complicit in supporting the
(lack of) knowledge all Canadians need about our
shared history as well as the (racist, derogatory, and
stereotyping) attitudes that get perpetuated
through the mainstream media and other forms of
public discourse, not to mention the (settler) values
that privilege a colonial ontology/epistemology.
So, how does a Geography of Canada course include
Indigenous content? An uninspired approach might
be to have a one-hour lecture somewhere in the course
outline that covers some maps of where Indigenous
peoples used to live (a.k.a. their traditional territory)
and show (often forced) movement over time (due to
famine, disease, economics, politics, policy [Indian
Act]) to postage-stamp sized Indian Reserves (obvi-
ously this does not apply to Inuit or Metis, but similar
forced relocations have taken place with them). From
there, one might demonstrate the rural-to-urban
migration, perhaps referencing population demo-
graphic trends and other “interesting” geographical
facts about Indigenous peoples. A more stimulating
and critical approach might be to weave Indigenous
content and Indigenous perspectives (through guest
speakers of Indigenous identity, films produced by
Indigenous film-makers about Canada, readings
written by Indigenous scholars on Canadian geogra-
phy) into each and every lecture (and while we are
envisioning an innovative approach to teaching this
content, why not bring the lecture theatre to Indige-
nous spaces, specifically, on-the-land experiential
education). Precedence has been set for doing so.
What we see now, in many Geography Departments’
is an elective (emphasis on elective, not required)
course here and there about Indigenous geographies.
We are reaching some Canadians and this is good. But
we can do better; we must do better.
In fact, some departments and institutions are
doing better. For example, Lakehead University is
making it mandatory that “a degree requirement of
at least one 0.5 Full Course Equivalent course
containing at least 50% (equivalent to 18 hours) of
Indigenous knowledge and/or Aboriginal content”
is mandatory for all academic units’ undergraduate
programs (Lakehead University n.d.). The University
of Winnipeg has also just approved a requirement
that all undergraduate students will be required to
complete a course in Indigenous rights, traditions,
histories, governance, and cultures (The University
of Winnipeg Students Association n.d.). Given the
Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to
action with respect to “education for reconciliation”
(Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
2015), it can be anticipated that institutionalizing
such requirements is not unreasonable.
And what do students taking a Geography of
Canada need in terms of resources? They need
access to Indigenous scholarship, which can take
the form of knowledge generated from Indigenous
academics but also—equally legitimate and relevant
—knowledge generated from Elders, hereditary
Chiefs, story-keepers, resource-users, respected
leaders, grassroots activists, and more. The point
is, Indigenous Knowledge is a verb not a noun, it is
living and dynamic, it is best received in Indigenous
spaces (e.g., land-based) under the “right” condi-
tions (e.g., perhaps with an Elder present, Sacred
Medicines present, or Ceremony before all else) at
the “right” time (e.g., not when the salmon are
running or when the berries are ripe or when . . . [you
get the picture]) in a way that is not restricted to the
classic institutional notion of a 90-minute lecture
that ends abruptly when the bell rings (see New-
house 2008).
Borrowing from Kobayashi and Peake’s (2000, 392)
comments about Whiteness, racism, and antiracist
geography in the United States, the same applies in
Canada: “Racialization is part of the normal, and
normalized, landscape and needs to be analyzed as
such”. To their words, I would only add a colonial
mentality is equally, if not more so, embedded in
settler Canadian populations and our shared land-
scape; we must do more to overcome our own
geography of ignorance. Teaching is one mechanism
to do so, and as teachers we all have a responsibility to
contribute to the process of decolonizing the acade-
my. While movement-at-a-snail’s-pace may be the
norm at most academic institutions, it is no excuse for
not pressing for innovation in all areas, including
Indigenous pedagogy (i.e., content and delivery), to
better understand the “geographies of Canada.”
Taking space in the Geography of
Canada classroom: Positionalities,
pedagogies, politics (John Paul
I had the pleasure and privilege of teaching Geogra-
phy of Canada in Fall 2013, the last semester of my
The Canadian Geographer / Le G�eographe canadien 2015, 59(4): 519–531
Teaching the geographies of Canada 527
PhD at the University of Toronto. The course
regularly attracts a substantial number of mostly
elective students (about 170 students when I was
instructor). Despite the fact that the course is taught
regularly, it does not have a regularly assigned
faculty instructor; like many others before me, I
taught the course as a sessional instructor.
My version of the course focused on geographies
of nation building, particularly on the role of
structural violence in the production of Canada as
a nation. My decidedly politicized approach to the
course sought to make several interventions, one of
which was a move away from the traditional regional
approach by organizing my course thematically to
emphasize that geography is the study not just of
places, but also of the spatiality of social and
political processes such as nation-building.
Along with the introductory week “O Canada: the
Nation as Idea/l” and the concluding week “Glorious
and Free: Canada’s Geographical Futures,” the four
major thematic sections of the course were:
1. “Our Home and Native Land”: Canada as a White
Settler Nation
2. “We See Thee Rise”: Nature, Resource, Territory
3. “From Far and Wide”: Geographies of Immigra-
tion and Multiculturalism
4. “We Stand on Guard”: The Geopolitics of the
Border, War and Peacekeeping
Informed by the anti-oppressive pedagogical
interventions of scholars such as hooks (1994),
Razack (1998), Dei (1993), and Munoz (2005),
I centred anti-racist and anti-colonial approaches
in designing my course. I emphasized, for example,
how geographies of colonialism were foundational
to Canadian nation building. In so doing, my course
linked territorial expansion and resource extraction
to the legal and material production of reserves,
residential schools, and other sites of colonial
violence—spatial processes that, I argued, were
central to the very making of Canada as a nation.
The second half of the course focused on racial
geographies of migration and geopolitics, discus-
sing, among other things, the role of racialized
labour in territorial and economic expansion both
historically (e.g., Asian labour migrants in railroad
building andforestry)andatpresent(e.g.,temporary
migrant workers in caregiving and agriculture); the
spatiality of border control; and Canadian interna-
tional interventions through war and peacekeeping.
In emphasizing these themes, my course sought
to trouble what I call the “received curriculum” of
Canada as a nation. A curriculum of “exaltation”
(Thobani 2007), this dominant and state sanctioned
form of national narration contains, among other
things, the following lessons: (i) that Canada was
built by the English and the French as its two
founding nations; (ii) that Canada is a space of
multicultural hospitality for immigrants and people
of colour, as is encoded in official multiculturalism;
and (iii) that Canada is a force of good in the world,
either as a peacekeeper or as an (apparently) more
recently militarized intervener in world conflict (see
also Razack 2002). These lessons circulate through
many forms of public pedagogy, including elemen-
tary and secondary curricula, citizenship guides for
new immigrants to Canada, and the mass media
(e.g., televisualized “heritage minutes”). Rather than
repeat these already dominant national narratives,
my course engaged with their messaging in an
attempt to highlight how they produce Canada as a
certain kind of nation, emphasizing the erasures
and errors that they strategically create in order for
them to become legible and legitimate. For example,
in one lecture, I used the redesigned Canadian
passport—and its iconographies and geographies of
colonial conquest, territorial expansion, and mili-
tary prowess—to highlight the production of
Canada as a socio-spatial idea/l, one that elevates
particular national narratives, while downplaying or
erasing others.
From the very beginning, I was forthcoming about
the politics of the course, going as far as to note in
the syllabus that “the role of violence in the making
of Canada as a nation” was a central course theme.
While I was prepared for pushback from adminis-
tration, this did not materialize. Instead, I encoun-
tered some student resistance to how I approached
the course—resistance that, I argue, needs to be
understood not as individual failure or prejudice,
but as a symptom of the broader institutionaliza-
tion and public circulation of narratives of Canadian
exceptionalism (Razack 2002; Thobani 2007).
This received curriculum of Canadian national
narration was a heavy haunting presence in the
Geography of Canada classroom, and my attempts to
trouble this curriculum were met by some students
with some degree of hostility and refusal. Some
students, for example, noted that I “dwelled on
colonialism a bit too much” and that we “spent an
inordinate amountof time . . . on Canadian Aboriginal
The Canadian Geographer / Le G�eographe canadien 2015, 59(4): 519–531
528 Nicole Lalibert�e et al.
issues, history, and theory.” Another student noted
that I “[overlooked] many other aspects of our great
country.” Such resistanceto spotlighting colonial and
racial violence suggests that what students bring to
the classroom (in this case, patriotism and other
political investments) can be a barrier to critical
geographic approaches to a course like Geography of
Another reason for resistance has to do with
assumptions that students bring to the course not
only about what counts as Geography. While it was
clear that some students were receptive to my critical
approach, with one commenting that “[t]his is
definitely a new way to look at geography, very
interesting!,” others had relatively inflexible ideas
about what counts as Geography. One comment, for
example, evinces this limited conception of the
discipline: “Although this was a geography course,
it certainly did not focus on the geography of the
country. The instructor instead decided to talk about
issues which he cared about more although I would
not have said that they fit the course description.” At
first glance, this statement calls attention to stu-
dents’ preconceptions of Geography as a barrier to
teaching geographies of Canada critically. There is,
however, another possible reading, one that links the
phrase “issues which he cared about” to my position-
ality, politics, and embodiment as a racialized
instructor occupying classroom space. This reading
is possible when comments about what geography
ought to be are read against accusations of bias that
were common in student evaluations (e.g., “one sided
and biased,” “one sole perspective”). This mirrors
Spafford and colleagues’ (2006, 5) finding that
racialized faculty members are disproportionately
labelled as “pedagogically ‘biased’” by both col-
leagues and students. Given my multiple Geography
degrees and the use of multiple academic and non-
academic writings in the course (as opposed to one
sole-authored textbook), I cannot help but read the
dual evaluation of “not geography” and “biased” as a
refusaltosee anti-racistandanti-colonialapproaches
as legitimate geographical approaches, particularly
when delivered by a racialized scholar-teacher such
asmyself.Assuch, whatcounts as“Geography” inthe
classroom is also, for geographers of colour, a
question of who counts as a geographer.
My experiences in the Geography of Canada
classroom suggest that competing positionalities
and political investments produce the classroom as
a racialized space of teaching and learning. After all,
teaching, like research, is an embodied and situated
practice. In Geography of Canada classrooms, as in
others, content and style of teaching matter as much
as who is in the classroom and what they bring to
this space. Hence, while teaching spaces remain ripe
for critical intervention (see Castleden above), it is
equally important to recognize that the position-
alities of instructors (and indeed of students) matter
for how such critical approaches might be received
and assessed.
For us, as geographers and educators, teaching the
geographies of Canada—including and especially in
formal Geography of Canada courses—is an oppor-
tunity, however constrained, to make various
interventions in the production and politics of
geographic knowledges. Each of the commentaries
in this piece has taken up pedagogical, curricular,
and/or political challenges related to teaching
geographies of Canada, thus extending Ken Foote
and Michael Solem’s (2009) interventions on geo-
graphical education in the US context. Examining
our individual experiences and practices allows us
not only to collectively face our role in constructing
and re/producing the nation in which we live
through the decisions we make about course
content, but also to reflect on the practices and
politics that inform how we organize the spaces and
relations of teaching and learning in our work as
instructors. Several contributors to this paper
emphasize the need for us, as instructors, to face
the fact that geography’s ties to colonialist, imperi-
alist, and nation-building projects cannot be rele-
gated to the past but are an active part of
contemporary geopolitical practice, including in
the classroom. Taken as a whole, then, this paper
highlights how spaces of teaching and learning
(including the classroom, the field school, and the
representational spaces of textbooks) are political
spaces for the circulation of (certain) geographical
Through this article, we examine the ways in
which we perform, challenge, and reinscribe geog-
raphies of Canada through our individual, disciplin-
ary, and institutional practices. It also makes us
question the processes that shape the classroom
experience—cultural, economic, and political—and
that affect our and our students’ ability to engage
The Canadian Geographer / Le G�eographe canadien 2015, 59(4): 519–531
Teaching the geographies of Canada 529
with the multiple geographies of Canada. As several
contributors suggest, echoing Smith (2009) and
MacNell et al. (2015), in the space of teaching and
learning, positionality matters because it affects not
only what is taught and how, but also how course
content and pedagogical approaches might be
received. In the classroom or the field school,
positionality can affect whether something is
considered legitimate course content or mere
opinion, whether curriculum is seen as adhering
to or contesting mainstream knowledges, or wheth-
er a literal body of knowledge can be seen as an
expert. Moreover, several contributors suggest that
it is crucial to recognize that spaces of teaching and
learning are entangled with other spaces of knowl-
edge (e.g., mass media, elementary and high
schools, embodied experiences). This suggests
that encounters in teaching and learning spaces
are conditioned not only by what teachers and
learners bring to the classroom (in terms of what
they know, what they think they know, or what they
don’t know, for example), but also by the existence
of norms that are enforced through technologies
and practices of surveillance and disciplining (e.g.,
student and peer evaluations, institutional mission
statements and teaching cultures, reviews of teach-
ing material). Taken together, the commentaries
that comprise this paper suggest that reflecting on
teaching practices and experiences is productive
not only for our continued development as individ-
ual educators, but also for broader collegial and
disciplinary conversations about what “geography”
is and how—i.e., through what practices—it circu-
lates in and through spaces of teaching.
As post-secondary institutions continue to cor-
poratize and neoliberalize and as the “academic
precariat”—particularly job-insecure graduate stu-
dents and contract faculty—continue to take on an
ever increasing portion of undergraduate teaching
(Bauder 2005; Dowling 2008), it is paramount more
than ever to pay attention to the task of teaching as a
crucial, if sometimes underappreciated, form of
academic practice and a site for the production and
social reproduction of geographical knowledge.
Critical reflections such as those on offer in this
paper provide important opportunities for us to
take stock of the social, economic, political, and
intellectual contexts within which we, as Canadian
geographic scholars and educators, perform, pro-
duce, and provoke “geography” in the spaces of
teaching and learning.
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Teaching the geographies of Canada 531
1.Read Laliberté et. al.’s (2015) article which introduced some different approaches to
teaching a course on the Geography of Canada. Imagine that our course was included in that
article. Create a short summary of the approach that could potentially be included in an
updated version of that article. In your summary, be sure to compare and contrast our
approach with others.
Note:more for quality than quantity and provide a good summary of the approach in under
400 words. (10 points)
2.The Canadian Shield (write a paragraph about this) (5 points)
3. See the picture and write a paragraph.
4.The National Policy (write a paragraph about this) (5 points)
5.Listen to/ watch any TWO of the following podcasts or videos. (15 points)
For each, provide a succinct summary that identifies the key take-home messages. Be sure to
keep this second component of the exercise in mind. We are not just looking foroverviews
but precisely how each podcast / video relates to or could fit into our course. We will be
looking more at quality than quantity but as a rough guideline I expect you will be able to
provide an overview of each of the two episodes adequately in under 800 words (total).
1. Podcast: The Big Story (May 20, 2022), “What’s in Bill 96? And why is it tearing
apart Quebec’s uneasy language truce?” available here:
quebecs-uneasy-language-truce/It’s a gigantic update to Quebec’s language laws,
which have been part of the cultural fabric of the province for 50 years—and the
proposal even goes so far as to update Canada’s constitution.So what’s in the bill?
What does it actually mean? And what happens next?
2. Podcast: Curious Canadian History (Season 7, Episode 11, Feb 1, 2022) “To the
Winner Goes the Spoils: The Origins of Lord Stanley’s Cup”
In this episode David talks with author Jordan Goldstein about the history of hockey’s
Stanley Cup and its complex relationship to the way Canadians understand
themselves and their nation.
3. Podcast: CBC, The Secret Life of Canada (Season 2, Episode 2, Feb 19 2019) “The
Province of Jamaica”. This episode explores Caribbean migration to Canada, how a
Caribbean island might have become a Canadian province, and black labour
4. Video: CBC News (Apr 6, 2017) “Why the Battle of Vimy Ridge Matters” As Canadians marked the 100th
anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 2017, it’s worth asking: Why does Canada
keep commemorating that moment in history?

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