Voting Rights through Time

Exploring issues of inclusion since 1867

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Teacher's guide

This activity is also available in a blended learning version, using Google applications.

Overall description


This activity can be used in a history, social studies, civics or citizenship class to show how federal voting rights changed over time for selected groups in Canada.

In this activity, students will reflect on the question of inclusion and exclusion, then work together to examine case studies—including primary sources and events—related to voting rights in federal elections for different groups. They will create a “timeline with attitude” that shows how a particular group was included or excluded in Canadian democracy over time. Afterwards, they will find out about the history of the federal vote more generally through a video and an infographic.

Time needed

60 minutes

Big idea

The right to vote has not always existed for everyone in Canada. For a long time, voting was seen as a privilege: certain groups in the population were excluded at different times. Now all Canadian citizens 18 and over have the right to vote.

Inquiry question

How inclusive is our democracy?

Competencies and skills

  • Students will problem solve, manage information and think critically as they analyze historical events by
    • examining primary sources
    • placing events in chronological context
    • ranking events on the inclusion/exclusion scale
    • identifying potential turning points in history
  • Students will collaborate to arrive at a consensus in decision making.
  • Students will apply citizenship skills in considering issues of fairness and equity in voting rights over time.
  • Students will communicate their thinking in small groups and their conclusions in whole-class discussions and through personal reflection to become self-aware of any changes in their thinking since the start of the activity.

Getting ready


The following materials are provided in different formats to help meet your needs. You can also find all essential materials for this lesson at the bottom of the page.

Printable materials
  • Timeline [HTML]  [PDF]
  • Case study: First Nations Peoples
    • Activity cards (standard) [HTML]  [PDF]
    • Activity cards (language learners) [HTML]  [PDF]
    • Background information [HTML]  [PDF]
  • Case study: Inuit
    • Activity cards (standard) [HTML]  [PDF]
    • Activity cards (language learners) [HTML]  [PDF]
    • Background information [HTML]  [PDF]
  • Case study: Japanese Canadians
    • Activity cards (standard) [HTML]  [PDF]
    • Activity cards (language learners) [HTML]  [PDF]
    • Background information [HTML]  [PDF]
  • Case study: Women
    • Activity cards (standard) [HTML]  [PDF]
    • Activity cards (language learners) [HTML]  [PDF]
    • Background information [HTML]  [PDF]
  • Case study: Youth
    • Activity cards (standard) [HTML]  [PDF]
    • Activity cards (language learners) [HTML]  [PDF]
    • Background information [HTML]  [PDF]
  • Turning point frame [HTML]  [PDF]
  • Thinking guide [HTML]  [PDF]
  • Infographic: “The Right to Vote in Federal Elections: Then and Now” [HTML]  [PDF]
  • A brief history of federal voting rights in Canada [HTML]  [PDF]
  • Blank cards: Create your own case study [HTML]
  • Optional assessment rubric [HTML]  [PDF
Digital materials
Material not included
  • Sticky notes (2 different colours)


To set up for this activity, choose which case studies your students will examine. The kit includes five case studies: First Nations Peoples, Inuit, Japanese Canadians, Women, and Youth. You may find the background information and the context cards helpful. Plan to divide your class into small groups to maximize engagement and learning. Depending on the size of your class, you can download and print more case study cards and timelines. 

Minds on

10 minutes

Ask students to think of a time when they felt excluded from something. How did that feel? What did they do? Don’t ask for specific details of the event, just the emotions and actions. Have students write down one or two words on one colour of sticky note. Then ask them to think of a time when they felt included in something and write down one or two words on a different colour of sticky note.

Collect the sticky notes on the board or on chart paper. Read out some of the words in each category. Discuss what inclusion and exclusion feel like and look like, and come up with criteria as a class.

Explain that students will now analyze a historical case study of inclusion and exclusion in Canadian history related to the right to vote in federal elections. Their job is to organize events chronologically and on an inclusion/exclusion scale using a “timeline with attitude,” so they will need to use these criteria to justify their ranking.


30 minutes

1. Getting ready

Place students in small groups. Distribute a set of case study cards, the relevant context card and a timeline to each group.

Explain to students that each set of cards illustrates a historical case study related to the right to vote in Canada.

Working in their small groups, students will examine cards and place them on the timeline chronologically and by inclusion/exclusion. Note that there are no right answers in this activity, and every group’s timeline will look different. The discussions and reasoning are the most important part.

You may wish to distribute the Turning Point frame to further emphasize the historical thinking concept of continuity and change. You could write a definition of a turning point on the board. One definition is that a turning point is a time when there is a shift in direction or pace.

2. Creating a timeline

Within their small groups, ask students to begin the case study by having one person read the context card aloud. Then, students should read the case study cards. Give students time to discuss within their small groups and reach a consensus on the placement of the cards. The dates are included on the cards so students can quickly see when events happened in relation to each other. Once events are placed (possibly overlapping), students can see when there were times of more change or more stability/lack of change. This can lead to in-depth discussion around continuity and change, and the potential identification of turning points.

Invite them to place the Turning Point frame (if you are using it). Circulate to listen to their conversations and justifications. Remind students that they can use the criteria for inclusion or exclusion to justify their reasoning, and note any misconceptions or false inferences. These will need to be addressed in the consolidation.

Once students have finished, you can invite them to reflect on their thinking, using the discussion questions from the thinking guide.

3. Sharing their thinking

Students will need to see each other’s case study timelines. Choose the suggested activity that will work for your learners:

  • Quick share: Ask each group to share their thinking with the class. Students can respond to one or more of the reflection prompts from the thinking guide.
  • Gallery walk: Have students move around the classroom to look at the other case studies and share their observations about the different timelines. Ask them how they would describe the shapes of the timelines and what those shapes can tell us. Invite them to reflect on how similar or different the case studies are.
  • Walking jigsaw: Ask students to number off within their groups and form a new group with members from each of the other case study groups. Then, groups go to each timeline to hear the explanation from the group member who created it.
  • Station rotation: Do the activity over two class periods, having students rotate among the stations and complete all case studies in their original groups.


20 minutes

1. Discussing the case study

In a class discussion, have students share their answers to the following prompts (from the thinking guide):

  • What was the most difficult card to place?
  • Which events in the case studies were surprising to you? Which events do you have questions about?
  • Does getting the right to vote always mean inclusion in democracy?
  • Are other changes needed to make Canada’s democracy more inclusive?

Refer to the background information to help you address student responses and questions.

2. Giving the big picture

Show the Voting Rights through Time video and/or the infographic. Both compare the percentage of the population that could vote in 1867 to the percentage today.

Next, ask students to reflect on and write individually in response to the following questions in the thinking guide:

  • What surprised you about inclusion and exclusion in Canadian democracy?
  • What is one question you have now?
  • Are other changes needed to make Canada’s democracy more inclusive?


Optional extension activity

This activity can be used in a history class to examine the actions of individuals in the past and to further analyze these events using the historical thinking concepts:

  • Continuity and change: What has changed since then? What has remained the same? What were the turning points?
  • Perspectives: What other perspectives are possible/missing from these case studies? What beliefs and worldviews motivated people’s actions in the past?
  • Cause and consequence: What were the most important factors in creating this historical change? What are the short-term and long-term consequences of that change? Were there unintended consequences?
  • Significance: What are the most significant people, events and developments in the history of the vote in Canada?
  • Ethical dimension: What is my responsibility, now that I understand this historical event?

Teaching tips

Students who need literacy support will benefit from pre-teaching of the key vocabulary they will encounter as they read the case study cards aloud.

The Minds On activity provides a way to assess the literacy level in your classroom. If most of the responses are “happy” or “sad,” you might want to spend some time building vocabulary.

An optional version for language learners and struggling readers is available. Plain language and simple sentences make this version ideal for lower-literacy, immersion and second language students. There are fewer activity cards, so students can complete the activity in the allotted time and achieve the same learning outcomes.

This activity introduces and explores the historical thinking concept of continuity and change. The purpose of putting items on a timeline instead of just in chronological order is to get a sense of when events happened in relation to each other. Once students start to consider the ideas of inclusion and exclusion, more patterns can emerge.

For example, students may be able to see that the case studies are all quite different from each other. For each group, changes happened for different reasons. Some groups advocated for change, while others had little agency in change. Some events are less about inclusion or exclusion and more about agency, self-determination, political will or other social, political or economic factors.

It is good practice to have established norms or success criteria for a civics discussion. You may wish to start by referring to guidelines in your provincial/territorial curricula. Establishing norms of discussion with your students (co-creating success criteria) is time well spent for engagement.

A jigsaw can be used in this activity as a protocol to increase engagement and accountability. The jigsaw ensures that all students understand their own topic and positions them as listeners and speakers. This helps to build confidence and ensure that all students have the opportunity to have their voice heard in the classroom.

Support video

Descriptive transcript

To use this lesson:

You will need


  • Activity Cards - First Nations Peoples [language learners]

  • Activity Cards - Inuit [language learners]

  • Activity Cards - Japanese Canadians [language learners]

  • Activity Cards - Women [language learners]

  • Activity Cards - Youth [language learners]