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 though 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 over 18 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.
  • Student 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


To set up for this activity, choose which case studies your students will examine. You may find the background information and the case study cards helpful. You can choose to do one or more case studies simultaneously, depending on your learners’ needs and your learning goals. Plan to divide your class into small groups to maximize engagement and learning.



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


Digital materials


Material not included

  • Sticky notes (2 different colours)

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 as well. Write the definition of a turning point on the board: when the process of change shifts 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 the historical thinking concept of 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. Ensure that students are using 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 questions from the thinking guide:

  • The most difficult item to place was…
  • I was surprised by…
  • I wonder about…


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:

  • Pair like groups (e.g., those who did the same case study) and have students share their thinking and justify their placement of events in a presentation to the class.
  • Walking jigsaw: Ask students to number off within their groups and form a new group of four with members from each of the other case studies. 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):

  • 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? What other ways are groups included in or excluded from democracy today?
  • Were there turning points in the history of the vote in Canada? Would you change your initial placement of the Turning Point frame now that you’ve looked at the experiences of several groups?

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


2. Giving the big picture

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

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

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.

It is good practice to have established norms or success criteria for a civic 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 - Japanese Canadians [language learners]

  • Activity Cards - Women [language learners]

  • Activity Cards - Youth [language learners]

  • Activity Cards - First Nations Peoples [language learners]

  • Activity Cards - Inuit [language learners]