Governor General recognizes teacher for bringing history to life

  • December 2, 2010
Diane VautourTORONTO - Diane Vautour likes to bring history to life. And for doing so on a daily basis at Toronto’s Loretto College High School, she was awarded a Governor General’s Award for Excellence in Teaching Canadian History at a ceremony at Rideau Hall on Nov. 19.

“Teaching at an all-girls’ school, I want to emphasize women’s history, from a women’s point of view,” Vautour, 32, told The Register.

“It’s not just an add-on or an extra page in a textbook.”

In addition to receiving a gold medal, Vautour was presented with a cheque for $2,500 while Loretto College received $1,000.

The school celebrated Vautour’s accomplishments with a Nov. 23 celebration.

Vautour’s students appreciate what their teacher has brought to the classroom. In her lessons, Vautour has had students role play in re-enacting Canadian history. Recently, she had students dress up as pioneering 20th-century suffragette Nellie McClung and her supporters parodying Manitoba’s stand against Canadian women’s right to vote.

Students like Evelyn Alvarado-Gordon, 16, say this lesson about women’s history at the all-girls’ high school brings history to life.

“It connects what’s happening in the past to the present,” said Alvarado-Gordon.

“The role-playing shows how far we’ve come.”

The re-enactment play in Vautour’s class is one of the innovative projects for which the seven-year Loretto College teacher was recognized. The play was followed by a simulation of the parliamentary debate over the 1917 Wartime Elections Act which extended the right to vote to women who had relatives who had fought in the First World War.

The school’s project involving the Mock Parliament of 1914 also required students to research archival reports, prepare costumes, study correct forms of period speech and collect personal information for their roles in portraying politicians, suffragists and newspaper women of that time.

This year, students also created an historical quilt representing the contributions of early Canadians like Canada’s nursing sisters, the Newfoundland Regiment and black Canadian soldiers.

On the importance of highlighting women’s history, Vautour said people often forget about women’s early struggles. But she noted that “regular women” brought about positive changes.

“I want (my students) to see themselves in those women as well,” she said.

Vautour explains that her teaching philosophy is to “make kids like and enjoy history.” Kids love stories and a fun experience, she said.

For student Carine Araujo, these exercises encourage students to “step into the shoes of other people,” including the male politicians of that era who were on the other side of the debate, and to think about what was acceptable compared to today.

As for how she got her passion for history, Vautour credits her former high school history and political science teacher Paul Clancy at Michael Power/St. Joseph Catholic High School.

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