Ottawa in Daniel Poliquin’s words: what is the historical importance of this Franco-Ontarian author?


Learning objectives

The student will:

  • Use the inquiry process to explore the role that writer Daniel Poliquin's work has played in Francophone culture
  • Put the author’s life and events into context, based on the historical sources presented in the virtual exhibition
  • Analyze the reasons why Daniel Poliquin occupies a special place among Francophones in Ottawa and elsewhere in the country
  • Clearly communicate ideas through teamwork and group discussions.
CULTURE Component: Ottawa in Daniel Poliquin’s words 


Upon their arrival in the growing capital, Francophones established a tradition of reading and writing. They set up institutions to support this tradition, which quickly spread throughout Ontario and French Canada. In this way, Ottawa nurtured poets, novelists, storytellers, and playwrights. Among these authors is the Franco-Ontarian writer Daniel Poliquin. Born in Ottawa in 1953, he became a translator and interpreter for the federal public service and the House of Commons, while at the same time pursuing a career as a writer. To date, he has published thirteen works of fiction and a fictionalized biography of René Lévesque. His work is read throughout Canada and abroad, and many of his novels set in the city of Ottawa have been translated into English. Daniel Poliquin has even translated internationally renowned authors such as Jack Kerouac, Mordecai Richler and Matt Cohen into French. Two of his translations, Thomas King's The Inconvenient Indian and Alexandre Trudeau’s Barbarian Lost: Travel in the new China, earned him a Governor General’s Literary Award, the highest literary distinction in the country! 

Based on an analysis of the theme “Ottawa in Daniel Poliquin’s words,” what do you think is the historical importance of this Franco-Ontarian writer? Answer this historical analysis question in the form of a virtual survey by considering the contexts, perspectives and scope of his writings.


Activity description


The teacher reviews the process of inquiry necessary to complete the activity to analyze the historical importance of the work of author Daniel Poliquin. This process seeks to guide students in responding to the analytical question presented in the activity, using their critical sense. The process includes the following steps:

  • Formulate analytical questions (What is my initial question? What should I address?)
  • Collect sources and organize information (What sources and data are available?)
  • Analyze and interpret the information collected (What do the sources reveal? What is the evidence?)
  • Evaluate and draw conclusions (What conclusions can be drawn from this analysis?)
  • Communicate the inquiry results (What is my response to the question?)


The teacher tells students about the work to be completed during this activity, which is to determine the historical importance of Daniel Poliquin's work, as presented in the virtual exhibition, and to carry out one of the activities listed in “Suggestions to encourage learning.”

The teacher explains that the concept of historical importance is essential to understanding the past, because it is historical importance that determines what and who form the foundation of our memory, work, recollections, research and what we learn about history. Without this understanding of historical importance, students cannot understand or appreciate how narratives are developed, or why certain characters (e.g. Séraphin Marion, Father Lionel Groulx) and writings are recognized and legitimized, while others are ignored or erased from speeches and texts. Although we all have a personal interest in certain characters or writings, the methodical analysis of criteria leading to the selection or disregard of certain aspects of the past is essential to establishing historical importance and developing an understanding of history.

To develop a good understanding of the concept of historical importance in history, the teacher introduces students to the following criteria:

  • The importance of the person to the period. People live in a particular historical period. It is therefore a good idea to know if people were considered important in their community during the time they lived. It is helpful to consider the following specific elements:
    • Immediate recognition by witnesses: Was the person recognized in his/her day? For what reasons? In what way were they recognized? (e.g. newspapers, letters, awards, distinctions, etc.)
    • Continuity through time: How long did the person play a role of importance? What can explain the duration?
  • Consequences of actions. The gestures and actions performed by witnesses to history are not isolated in time, and may have consequences for subsequent events. For example, the cup introduced by Governor General Lord Stanley to honor Canada’s hockey champions in 1893 has become, over time, the oldest trophy awarded to professional athletes in America. It is therefore important to evaluate the consequences of actions taken by considering the following elements:
    • Scale: Did the actions have repercussions on other events? (e.g. did the actions lead to changes?)
    • Scope: Were the impacts of the actions widely felt? (e.g. how many people or regions were affected?)
    • Duration: did the actions extend over time, did they have an impact? (e.g. how long did the effects last?)
  • The subsequent scope of a person's actions. In history, it is important to assess the subsequent scope of actions when analyzing subsequent events or culture in general. It is helpful to consider the following elements:
    • Commemoration: Is the person’s role important to a group, a community, or to historians? (How is the person commemorated?)
    • The revealing aspect: Does the person serve to better understand or grasp the relevance of a particular aspect of the past? (What do the person's accomplishments mean to contemporary society?)

The teacher also emphasizes that historical importance is not universal and unalterable over time. The particular historical context in which people live, and the consequences of their actions on the continuation of history, have a direct bearing on our ability to judge the historical importance of witnesses to history. An unknown figure such as Marie Angélique, for example, an Aboriginal slave sentenced for causing the Montreal fire of 1734, remained relatively insignificant in the history of the country. It was only with the rise of social history and Aboriginal studies that the “affaire Angélique” became historically and socially important in the country. Today, there is also a protest movement to rename the Langevin Block in Ottawa, following a review of Minister Hector Langevin's role in Indian residential schools across the country.


The teacher: 

  • Explains to students the work to be completed during this group activity.
  • Divides the students into teams, ensuring that each team has access to a computer.
  • Provides each team with Worksheet 1: Analyzing the historical importance of writer Daniel Poliquin, which will be used to organize, analyze, and assess the information collected by the students.
  • Explains to students that their work to assess historical importance should identify:
    • the importance of Daniel Poliquin to the period
    • the consequences of his writing for Francophone culture
    • the subsequent scope of his work.
  • Invites students to view the virtual exhibition section, “Ottawa in Daniel Poliquin’s words.”
  • Observes and guides student work in analyzing information and data from the virtual exhibition.
  • Encourages students to read and make sense of the historical sources included in the virtual exhibition to find relevant information and evidence to support their team decision.
  • Ensures that each team completes the worksheet and provides a detailed answer to the inquiry question.


The teacher:

  • Asks each team to choose a spokesperson.
  • Invites the spokespeople to present their findings based on their team’s responses to Worksheet 1.
  • Facilitates an exchange within the class based on the answers presented, with a view to assessing the importance of the work of author Daniel Poliquin to the French community, and to Canada.
  • Collects worksheets and provides written feedback to the teams.

Suggestions to encourage learning  

The teacher: 
•    Asks students to consider another situation of importance, this time in a contemporary context where the student is asked to produce, as part of a team, a brief web report about an artist of their choice.
•    Asks each team to answer the following question: Can you present a contemporary artist that you feel is important to Francophone culture?
•    Invites students to form teams and consult the virtual exhibition section, “Songs from here”.
•    Instructs students to use the historical importance analysis criteria presented in Worksheet 2 to produce a short web report about an artist of their choice.
•    Gives students specific direction regarding the type of web report to produce and present in class.