The Maple Tree

Maple LeafThere are around 10 species of maple tree native to Canada and at least one type is said to grow in every province. The tree that the maple leaf on Canada’s flag is modeled after is a Sugar Maple. These are beautiful trees, especially in the fall when the leaves become brilliant shades of orange and red. In the forest, a Sugar Maple may grow to 45 metres, with a trunk clear of branches half way up. Its wood is extremely strong and durable, especially the sap wood which lies just inside the outer layer of bark. It can produce wood with beautiful grains for furniture or floors that only becomes smoother and more beautiful with use.

Spring is a special time of year in Canada because this is when the trees that have been sleeping all winter start to wake up! During the summer when the leaves could make lots of tree food, the trees stored extra food away in the layer under their bark. This has been frozen all winter. But now, the sunshine during the day warms up the branches and the layers underneath and the tree food called sap starts to flow again, up and down the tree. It flows to all the little buds and starts to wake them up and make them start growing into leaves and flowers.

The maple tree is a special kind of tree that has very sweet sap, especially the Sugar Maple. Long ago, the Indians found out that they could make the sap into sugar. One story tells about a man named Woksis. He crawled out of his lodge one crisp spring day on his way to go hunting. He pulled his hatchet out of the maple tree where he had thrust it the night before. This had made a hole in the tree, but Woksis didn’t notice and went off hunting. At the bottom of the tree and leaning up against it was a birchbark basket. All morning the tree dripped into it, until when Woksis’ wife went to make dinner there was a basketful of what she thought was water. She used it to make her stew. Later that evening, when she and Woksis were having dinner, Woksis said “This stew is delicious. It tastes sweet!” And Woksis was right. After boiling all afternoon, the sap in the stew had become some tasty maple syrup.

mapletapThe Indian method was to cut a gash in the tree when the days began to get warmer, and slide in a hollow reed or funnel of bark. The sap dripped into a bark bowl and when full was emptied into a larger vessel or hollowed out tree trunk. The sap was concentrated by allowing it to freeze and taking off the ice, or by dropping hot stones into it until it boiled down. Since it takes about 40 L of sap to make 1 L of syrup, this can take a while.

Today maple syrup producers have refined the process a great deal. However, there are only a few weeks when the sap is sweet enough and that is when the trees first start to wake up.  And that is why maple syrup is only made in the spring.

IM000595.JPGPROJECT: Find a maple tree near you — what kind is it? The maples that are native to Canada are: Sugar, Black, Silver, Big Leaf, Red, Mountain, Striped, Douglas, Vine and the Manitoba. My favourite is the Big Leaf maple which grows in British Columbia. The biggest leaf we found was 40 cm (16 in) across!

FIELD TRIP: If you live near a maple syrup farm, go visit them in the spring when they are in the heat of production. Quite often they are open at other times of the year as well for hiking or maybe even pancakes and maple syrup. The following are two places I have been and recommend: Sugar Moon Farm and Acadian Maple Products both in Nova Scotia. If you are far from maple syrup country, make your own pancakes and buy some maple syrup to try!

BOOKS: At Grandpa’s Sugar Bush, by Margaret Carney, Kids Can Press, 1997 (picture book); Maple Syrup Season, by Ann Purmell, Holiday House, 2008 (picture book).


The Beaver

If you look at a Canadian nickel, you will find a picture of a beaver. Beavers are a Canadian emblem. When Canada was first discovered by Europeans, beaver fur was very popular with people back in France and England. They made hats and coats from its fur. Many, many beavers were killed until there weren’t very many left. There are now laws to protect beavers and fortunately beaver hats and coats aren’t popular anymore.

Beaver, courtesy NPS

Beaver, courtesy NPS

Beavers like to live in the woods near streams, ponds and lakes. They eat the bark from trees such as aspen, poplar, willow, birch and maple. They have very strong front teeth which aren’t nice and white like yours, but orange because they have iron in them to make them strong.

Each beaver family of parents, babies and older brothers and sisters have their own home area. They first build a dam across a stream. They wedge sticks into the stream bed and weigh the sticks down with rocks and mud. Then they pack branches and grass between the sticks and spread on mud until they have made a thick wall. The water can no longer flow through and so it starts to collect behind the dam and forms a pond. The beavers are happy about this because they like to build their lodge in the deep water behind the dam.

Beaver Lodge

Beaver Lodge, Miller, NPS Photo

It takes them about a week to build their lodge of branches and mud. Finally they will have a home with an entrance and exit under water and a small room above the waterline where they can raise their babies.

Beavers have a big, flat tail. They use it to warn of danger by slapping it on the water, and they can also pump it up and down to help them swim faster.

PROJECT: If you like to bake, try making beaver tails for a treat. If you don’t have time to make these yourself, see if you can find a place that sells them and give them a try.

BOOKS: Beavers, by Deborah Hodge, Kids Can Press, 1998 (picture book); Jack: the story of a beaver, by Shirley Woods, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2002 (childrens fiction)

The Flag

flagCanada’s motto is “A Mari usque ad Mare” which is Latin for “From sea to sea”. The Canadian flag was designed by Dr. George Stanley in 1965 to represent this. The two red stripes are the two oceans on the east and west, and the maple leaf in the centre is a united Canada. Red and white had been the official colours of Canada since 1921 and the maple leaf had already been used as a symbol of Canada in early French settlements.

There are rules regarding the proper care of a flag. For example, you cannot use it as a tablecloth, you should not pin or sew or mark anything onto it, and when it is raised or lowered or carried past in a parade, it is proper to face the flag, remove any hats and remain silent. When more than one flag is flying, Canada’s flag must be positioned most prominently and on its own flagpole.

Each province and territory also has it’s own flag. You can see them all here.

PROJECT: Draw or paint a Canadian flag with a nice bright red. Look carefully at the maple leaf when you draw it — it has 11 points not including the stem.

BOOKS: Our Canadian Flag, written by Maxine Trottier, illustrated by Brian Deines, North Winds Press 2004

WEBPAGES: 10 Cool Facts about the Canadian Flag; George Stanley

The National Anthem

Canada’s national anthem started out as a French song written by Adolphe-Basile Routhier. The music was composed by a violinist and opera composer, Calixa Lavallée. It was the year 1880 and great festivities were planned to celebrate the French culture in North America. On June 24, 1880, St. Jean-Baptiste Day, it was sung for the very first time.

The tune was catching and it wasn’t long before an English translation was made. Dr. Thomas Bedford Richardson translated it in 1901. It was quite different from what we sing today:

O Canada! Our father’s land of old.
Thy brow is crown’d with leaves of red and gold.
Beneath thy shade of the Holy Cross
Thy children own their birth.
No stains thy glorious annals gloss
Since valour shield thy hearth.
Almighty God! On thee we call.
Defend our rights, forfend this nation’s thrall.
Defend our rights, forfend this nation’s thrall.

This English version did not really catch on although people still hummed the tune.  In 1908, a magazine called Collier’s Weekly held a contest to write words to go with the tune. There were lots of participants, but the winning words still didn’t strike everyone’s fancy. People sang many different versions of this song.

Finally, in 1925 with Canada’s 60th birthday coming up, it was decided to find out which was the most popular English version and publish it as part of the celebrations. It was found that a version by Robert Stanley Weir, written in 1908 stood out from the rest. It was published in 1927.

In 1980, with the passing of the National Anthem Act, it was finally decided to use this version with a few changes as the English version of Canada’s National Anthem.

O Canada! Our home and native land.
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The true north strong and free.
From far and wide, O Canada!
We stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land, glorious and free!
O Canada we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada we stand on guard for thee.

PROJECT: Copy out the National Anthem and put it up on your fridge for a while. It’s a great song to sing really loud! Here’s the tune. You may notice that this anthem emphasizes that Canada is a free country. What makes it free? In what way do you benefit from this freedom?

BOOKS: O Canada: our national anthem, North Wind Press, 2003 (picture book); Our Song: The Story of O Canada, the Canadian National Anthem, by Peter Kuitenbrouwer, Lobster Press, 2004 (picture book).

The Size and Shape of Canada

Canada is one big country! If you decided to travel across Canada, from the east to the west, it would probably take you a whole week of driving from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed each day! The Trans Canada Highway which was completed in 1962, is 7777 km from one end (Victoria, British Columbia) to the other (St. John’s, Newfoundland). Canada also reaches far up to the north where it is cold and frozen. And if you go south far enough, you will cross an invisible border and find yourself in a different country — the United States of America.

If you were travelling across Canada, the time would keep changing. Since the sun rises in the east, people living on the east side wake up first. It is still dark in the west and it is not until easterners are having lunch that it is morning in the west. These times zones have names: Newfoundland, Atlantic, Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific Standard Time.

Portrait of Sir Sandford Fleming

Sir Sandford Fleming

A Canadian named Sandford Fleming was the inventor of time zones. He was the man in charge of the survey teams who worked out a path for the railway to take from Montreal to Vancouver. When the trains finally started running, he realized that they couldn’t run on a schedule unless time was consistent across Canada. So he divided the world up into 24 time zones. It was for this that he was knighted and became Sir Sandford Fleming.

If you are able to use the internet, find a satellite image of Canada. What do you notice about the shape of Canada? You will notice that Canada is not one solid colour. Can you imagine what the different colours mean? While you are there, zoom in on the community where you live! A good website to try is:

PROJECT: Get a good map of Canada to put up on your wall where it can stay for a while. You could trace out the shape of Canada on a big piece of poster board or you could print out this tiled map of Canada from Canadian Geographic, or you could print one out for a notebook: Map. Look at it’s shape. Mark a compass rose on your map showing the four directions. Find the place where you live on this big map of Canada, and mark it with a dot. Notice what is to the east, west, north and south of you. Depending on where you live, when you look out your window to the west where the sun is setting, you might be looking toward the rocky mountains, or towards the coast where the temperate rainforest and big trees are. And when you look towards the east where the sun is rising, you are looking towards the maritime provinces and the rocky island of Newfoundland.

Extras: 22 Maps of Canada; Picture Map Geography by Vernon Quinn, A Printable Puzzle Map

The Four Directions

Compass Rose

Image courtesy of Simon Howden,

It is very handy to know the four directions: north, south, east and west. If we wish to go to a certain place, knowing which direction to take is very helpful. A long time ago before there were roads and maps, people used the sky to tell them what direction they were going. During the day they would use the sun, and at night they would use the stars.

Have you ever watched the sun rise? When you wake up in the morning, have a look from the windows in your house. Which window is the sun coming through? Which window does it shine through in the late afternoon? The direction in which the sun rises is called “east”. The direction in which the sun sets is called “west”. If you stand outside when the sun first peeks over the horizon so that the morning sun shines on your face, you are facing toward the east. If you turned so that the morning sun shone on your back, you would be facing toward the west.

During the middle of the day in Canada, the sun shines on the south side of your house and any shadows will be pointing in a northerly direction. The north side of things does not get a lot of sun which is why you may notice that moss quite often grows on the north side of trees.

One night you might like to go outside and try to find the big dipper in the sky. You will need to face north and look up. The Big Dipper looks like a cooking pot with a long handle. The two bright stars in the big dipper farthest from the handle (the side of the pot) are called the pointer stars. If you follow a line through these stars, five times as long as the distance between the pointer stars, you will come to a medium bright star, the North Star. This star helps to make up the handle of the Little Dipper and it is always in the northern sky.

If it is cloudy and you cannot see the sun or the stars, it is still possible to find your way using something called a compass. It is a little box with an arrow swinging on top of a pin. When this arrow is still, it points to the north. Once you know where north is, you can easily find south, west and east!

Tip: Sometimes, it is easier to remember things by using a little sentence. You might want to remember these directions by a little phrase “Never Eat Shredded Wheat” so that the first letter of each word stands for a direction going around in the way a clock does (clockwise).

PROJECT: Take some time to draw a map of where you live. Pretend you are up in the sky looking down. What would you see? Try to draw the things you might see: the road in front, your driveway, big trees in your yard, a flower garden. What shape is your house? Can you mark where your bedroom is inside your house? What side of the house are you on when you look out your window? When you have completed your map, remember where you noticed that the sun rises in the morning and draw in where north, east, south and west are. Draw a compass rose.

History of the Compass

Finding True North

How to Navigate Using the Stars