BC Social Studies Lesson Plans

Canadian Pacific Railway

Grade 4


Canadian Pacific Railway

Big Idea

Demographic changes in North America created shifts in economic and political power.

Essential Question

How did the building of the railway change Canada?

Learning Standards Content

Students are expected to know the following:

  • economic and political factors that influenced the colonization of British Columbia and its entry into Confederation
    • Canadian Pacific Railway

Curricular Competencies

Students are expected to be able to do the following:

  • Construct arguments defending the significance of individuals/groups, places, events, or developments (significance)

Core Competencies

I can tell the story of the Canadian Pacific Railway using 5W+H.

I can consider the impact of building the railway on Chinese workers and Indigenous peoples.

I can explain how the railway united Canadians and shaped our identity.

First People's Principles of Learning

Learning is embedded in memory, history and story.
  • Explain that Canada is the 2nd largest country in the world for land size. When Canada became a country, people needed a more efficient way to travel across this great land than by foot or canoe. The government decided to build a railway to connect Canada and Canadians from coast to coast.
  • Think Pair Share: Why would having a railway be important for the new country of Canada?

Part 1: What is the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR)

  • Show the show video The Story of the Canadian Pacific Railway (0:50). Explain that “transcontinental” means across the continent.
  • Ask: How would building a railway help build the country of Canada?”

(brought settlers and immigrants, transported goods and materials, connected eastern and western Canada)

  • Project the website CP Connecting Canada. Scroll through the images in the timeline. Explain that building the railways is one of Canada’s greatest feats of engineering.
  • Ask: How did the geography (land) of Canada make building a railway challenging? (swamps, bogs, rivers, prairies, and mountains)
  • Provide students with the reading Building the Trans-Canada Railroad and the handout “CPR 5W+H”. Read aloud the article section by section, stopping to model how to take 5W+H notes (You can skip over the sections The Northwest Rebellion and Chinese Workers in BC as those will be covered in Parts 2 and 3.)


Part 2How did the CPR affect Indigenous people?

  • Explain that First Nations and Métis groups were living on the land that the railway was going to be built on.
  • Read aloud the section The Northwest Rebellion in Building the Trans-Canada Railroad.
  • Ask:
    • Why were First Nations and Métis unhappy about the railway?
    • How did the railway help the Canadian government control Indigenous peoples?
    • Why would Indigenous people not see the railway as a positive symbol of Canadian unity?


Part 3: How did Chinese workers contribute to building the CPR?

  • Explain that building the railway in BC was difficult because of the many mountains. Building tunnels through the mountains was dangerous, and the most dangerous jobs were often done by Chinese workers.
  • Show the Heritage Minute video Nitro. Ask why Chinese workers would have been willing to do such dangerous work.
  • Read aloud the section Chinese Workers in BC in Building the Trans-Canada Railroad. Ask:
    • What was life like for the Chinese railroad workers?
    • What challenges did the Chinese railroad workers experience?
    • How did the Chinese railroad workers help shape British Columbia and Canada?
  • Show the image The Last Spike. Ask:
    • Who is shown in the picture? (Men who owned/managed the CPR company and white working men)
    • Who is missing from the photograph? (There is not a single Chinese Canadian worker in the photograph. In fact, they were cleared from the area before the photo was taken.)
    • Why might this be? (Discuss the anti-Asian racism of the time.)
  • Provide students with the handout “Building the CPT: T-Chart”. Have students use this graphic organizer to list the benefits and problems of building a railway connecting western and eastern Canada.
  • Have students respond to the essential question: How did building the railway change Canada?
  • Encourage safe behaviour around tracks and trains by having students play the CP Rail Sense game.

Adrangi, M. [2014?] “TransCanada: Building A Nation Not to be Proud of…” The Council of Canadians. https://canadians.org/analysis/transcanada-building-nation-not-be-proud


Andrew-Gee, A. 2020. “‘The Railways Got Very Wealthy on Our Land’: How Rail’s Colonial Past Made it a Target for Blockades.” The Globe and Mail.



Bongiorno, J. 2020. “Uncovered Tracks: The Bloody Legacy of Canada’s Railways.” National Observer.



British Columbia. [n.d.] “Building the Railway.” British Columbians and Our Governments. Multiculturalism and Anti-Racism. Chinese Legacy BC. History



“Building the Trans-Canada Railroad.” [n.d.] [Port Moody, B.C.]: Port Moody Station Museum. https://cpconnectingcanada.ca/for-students/


Canadian Museum of History. [n.d.] “The Rail: From Sea to Sea.” Canadian History Wall. https://www.historymuseum.ca/%20history-hall/the-rail-from-sea-to-sea/


“Canadian Pacific Railway Facts.” 2020. SoftSchools.com.



“CP: Connecting Canada.” [n.d.] https://cpconnectingcanada.ca/


  1. [n.d.] “Why was the Canadian Pacific Railway built?” Our History.



Francis, Daniel, "The Last Spike". In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Article published January 23, 2017; Last Edited February 05, 2019. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/the-last-spike  


Historica Canada. “Step into History.” Historica Canada Education Portal.



Oosterom, N. 2014. “Ties that Bind.” Canada’s History.



Pon, J. 2010. “Chinese Railroad Workers.” The Ties That Bind Project, Foundation to Commemorate the Chinese Railroad Workers in Canada. Toronto, ON: Multicultural History Society of Ontario. https://www.mhso.ca/tiesthatbind/ChineseRailWorkers.php


Sutherland, D.G. 2021. “The Canadian Pacific Railway.” Red River North Heritage.



“Telling Times.” 2009. Canadian Pacific Railwayhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqRWQa0rIso


“The Building of a Transcontinental Railway in Canada: [extract] (1910).” 2015. [Ottawa, ON]: Library and Archives Canada. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyfDHIsdKxg






Hodge, D. 2000. “The Kids Book of Canada’s Railway: And How the CPR was built.” Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press.


Lavallée, O. 2007. “Van Horne's Road: The Building of the Canadian Pacific Railway.” Calgary, AB: Fifth House.


Lavallée, O. 1974. “Van Horne's Road: An Illustrated Account of the Construction and First Years of Operation of the Canadian Pacific Transcontinental Railway.” Montreal : Railfare Enterprises.

Download Complete Lesson Plan

.docx .pdf

Materials and Resources

Answer key

Rate this Curriculum

Last Reviewed

February 01, 2023

Produced by JES

curriculum developers