From our Historical Collection: Vernon G. Turner fonds

It seems in every classroom that there’s always one exceptional note-taker – whose handwriting is neat, whose attendance is spotless, and commitment to capturing every detail of a lesson fills page after organized page. At the North Toronto Collegiate Institute (NTCI), this student was Vernon G. Turner, whose meticulous notes for every class that he took between 1943 and 1948 have recently been archived at OISE Library.

An English notebook from third form. Almost all of Turner’s notes were taken in these Chapman notebooks.

As one may surmise by the enthusiasm for which he took his school notes – particularly in subjects relating to history, languages and geography – Turner went on to have a successful career as a Canadian foreign ambassador, serving the USSR, Mongolian People’s Republic, Israel and Cyprus before his retirement in 1991. In 1996, Turner found his high school notebooks in an old trunk*, accompanied by a collection of drawings, art projects, and workbooks from his elementary school days at Maurice Cody Public School in North Toronto’s Leaside neighborhood. Already familiar with OISE Press after recording a tape interview on Canadian foreign policy in the 1970s, Turner donated the notebooks to the institution, along with artwork, yearbook photographs, and a record of the teacher and subjects he encountered at NTCI. Turner’s collection will be preserved in the OISE Library’s Ontario Historical Education Collections (OHEC), and detailed descriptions of these materials can now be found through Discover Archives, the University of Toronto’s shared archival portal.

Vernon (third row from front, extreme right) and his Grade 1 classmates at Maurice Cody Public School.

While the OHEC collects documentation surrounding the development of public schools in Ontario including textbooks, Ministry of Education reports and provincial exams, few of its records come from students themselves. While the items in the OHEC can help researchers keep track of the educational resources mandated by the Ontario government, they do not encapsulate everything that has been taught in classrooms, as lesson plans, activities and supplementary materials are usually determined by the individual discretion of school boards and teachers. This is what makes the Vernon G. Turner fonds so valuable; not only does it contribute to our understanding of what it was like to attend high school in Toronto during the years surrounding the Second World War, but it shows the progression of a single student throughout his education, providing a comprehensive record of what he learned in school and the role that his education may have played in shaping his future.

A sampling of paper textiles from Turner’s Grade 8 science notebook.

Turner’s donation includes 26 notebooks that correspond to subjects taken during high school Forms 1-5. A typical school year involved year-long courses in English, French, Mathematics, Science, and History. Courses in Latin, German, and Library were added in second and third forms, while core subjects became more specific. Turner’s penultimate year of high school was his most academically diverse, with courses ranging in Meteorology, Health, Geometry, Modern History, as well as English, French, Latin, and German. Many of Turner’s notes would be relevant to modern students; his third year Mathematics notebooks is full of missing-angle equations, his fourth year notebook details Napoleon’s invasion, and his English notebooks contain several notes on Shakespeare.


Lettering practice done in elementary school.

Images of soldiers pasted into a “Current Events” notebook.

Other notebooks provide reminders of childhood in the 1940s. Significant are the notes revealing Turner’s classroom perspective of World War II. A small notebook from 1941 titled “Current Events” lists the unfolding events of WWII in Turner’s early cursive, including the German siege of Kiev in September and the actions of US warships. One page is dedicated to memorizing the different hats of army, navy, and air force soldiers, the images of which Turner has carefully labelled. Many of Turner’s notebooks suggest an emphasis on classroom crafts. His science notebooks are more akin to scrapbooks, with dried foliage, seeds, and textile samples such as cotton and woodchips glued into the pages. The young Turner also made several stories and booklets, ranging in subject from pirate conquests to math vocabulary to a diagram of the human ear.

Turner had an affinity for history, geography, and languages. His notes were often accompanied by hand-drawn maps and diagrams.


The complete fonds also tracks the development of Turner’s interest in historical affairs. In elementary school, he produced several maps that were carefully colored and labelled. At the end of Form 1, his Social Studies notebook was by far the largest and most detailed of his first year notebooks, and preserved a twenty-page appendix of world maps. In Form 4, his Modern History notes span two full notebooks, and in Form 5, Turner focused exclusively History and Language courses, including Latin, German and French. Turner went on to earn a master’s degree in German History, at which time his professor suggested that he join the Canadian Foreign Service. As part of his diplomatic career, Turner also served on the United Nations, and attended the New York consulate in the late 1960s.

The contents of the Vernon G. Turner fonds can be viewed by making an appointment to visit the Ontario Historical Education collections. The collection’s Discover Archives page provides detailed descriptions to help you prepare for your visit – either view the Finding Aid, or select an item through the drop-down menu. Select items are also on display in OISE Library in the glass table by the ground floor elevators.

* Information taken from OISE Press newspaper article: (June/July 1994). New material for textbook collection. OISE Press.


Posted in Historical Collection | Leave a comment

History Lunch Pop-Up #1: Ready to learn more?

If you had the chance to attend the first History Lunch Pop-Up with Dr. Ruth Sandwell on January 22nd, you might be interested in reading more by Dr. Sandwell on the topic of energy and climate change. We’ve posted links to resources and further readings below, and invite you to leave a comment with your own reading suggestions! We’ll continue to post resources and readings after the other history pop-up lunches in this series, organized by faculty members in OISE’s Master of Teaching program.

Jan 22, 2019
Dr. Ruth Sandwell
Climate Change: Historic Links between Land, Energy and Transportation

Dr. Sandwell’s teaching and research interests are in Canadian history (of education, rural society and the social history of energy) and the teaching of history, and broadly reflect the importance of studies in the humanities in general, and history in particular, to theories and practices of education. She is the founding co-director and executive board member of History Education Network/Histoire et Éducation en Réseau (THEN/HiER) and founding co-director and educational director of The Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project.

Related Resources and Scholarship:

R. W. Sandwell, ed. (2016) Powering Up Canada: Essays on the History of Heat, Light and Work from 1600 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill Queen’s University Press).

R. W. Sandwell (2016), Canada’s Rural Majority, 1870-1940: Household, Environment, Economies (Toronto: University of Toronto Press), part of Themes in Canadian History, Series Editor, Colin Coates.

R.W. Sandwell (2016) “The Emergence of Modern Lighting in Canada: A Preliminary Reconnaissance” The Extractive Industries and Society: An International Journal  Volume 3, Issue 3, 850-863.

R.W. Sandwell (2015), “Pedagogies of the Unimpressed: Re-Educating Ontario Women for the Mineral Economy, 1900-1940” Ontario History, Volume CVII, No. 1 / Spring. 36-59.

R. W. Sandwell, (2017), “People, Place and Power: Rural Electrification in Canada, 1890-1950,” in Paul Brassley, Jeremy Burchardt and Karen Sayer, eds. Transforming the Countryside: the Electrification of Rural Britain, (London and New York: Routledge), 178-204.

R. W. Sandwell (2016) “Introduction: Towards a History of Energy in Canada,” in R. W. Sandwell, ed. Powering Up Canada: Essays on the History of Heat, Light and Work from 1600 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill Queen’s University Press), 3-36.

R. W. Sandwell and Colin A.M. Duncan (2016) “Manufactured and Natural Gas,” in R. W. Sandwell, ed. Powering Up Canada: Essays on the History of Heat, Light and Work from 1600 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill Queen’s University Press), 300-328.

Posted in History Pop-Ups | Leave a comment

Refugee Awareness Week 2019

Refugee Awareness Week is back at the OISE Library! RAW is an initiative led by OISE graduate student Henry Ssali and the African Alumni Association as part of Black History Month. The event began in 2018, bringing the plight of refugees to the fore as tents, pamphlets, and book displays were set up in the OISE Library, Robarts Library, and the John W. Graham Library at U of T. This year, the event returns, running from February 25 to 28, 2019. A tent will be pitched again in each of these U of T libraries to illustrate the living conditions of many displaced individuals, and a RAW panel discussion will be held at Massey College on Wednesday, February 27, from 4:30-7:00 PM.

In support of the event, the OISE Library is curating a book display related to the experiences of refugees. The display includes titles pulled from academic pedagogical literature, children’s literature, and the library’s curriculum resources for the use of teachers in classrooms. Themes explored in these resources range from issues of disrupted education due to displacement, to how best to support refugee populations in new educational settings. Best practices for fostering inclusive and supportive classroom learning environments for refugee students in both K-12 and post-secondary classrooms can be found in titles like Supporting Refugee Children in Canada: Strategies for Educators, and The Newcomer Student: An Educator’s Guide to Aid Transitions, among others.

Beyond academia, the OISE Library’s wide selection of children’s literature includes titles that recount the refugee experience and render it relatable for all ages and reading levels. These include picture books, like Refugees and Migrants, and novels, like The Red Pencil, and Refugee. Curriculum resources like Lost Boy, Lost Girl: Escaping Civil War in Sudan and Refugee Education: Mapping the Field can also help teachers to address the plight of refugees in the classroom.

The Refugee Awareness Week tent and book display can be found on the ground floor of the OISE Library next to the entrance for the duration of the event. The tent will be pitched the afternoon of Sunday February 24th, 2019 and will remain up until the afternoon of February 28th.

Posted in Library Events, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has officially declared 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages! Across the world, UNESCO is calling for the celebration of Indigenous languages to raise awareness and appreciation for the integral role that they have in shaping cultural diversity. This month, the Indigenous Ground Floor Display features books written in several Indigenous languages spoken throughout Canada, including Anishinaabemowin, Nēhiyawēwin, Michif, Inuktitut, and Dakhótiyapi.

Nipêhon (I Wait) by Caitlin Dale Nicholson with Leona Morin-Neilson

This beautiful picture book tells the story of a young girl who is eager to pick wild yarrow for tea – but first, she must wait for her mother and grandmother. This story teaches the virtue of patience and the importance of loving your family, no matter what age you are! Nipêhon is written in both Nēhiyawēwin and English, and its colourful pages and calming pace make it a captivating choice for a young story-time audience. The book uses variations of simple sentences that reinforce Nēhiyawēwin vocabulary and sentence structure. A recipe for yarrow tea can also be found in the final pages.

Kalla by Kelly Ward, Navarana Beveridge, Isabelle Dingemans, Gerdhardt Egede & Rosemary Meyok

Inspired by the Artcirq Inuit Circus, Kalla is all about fun and games! At the circus, Kalla has one eye on the acrobats, and another on the emerging patterns and numbers that come from each new trick. Using interactive narration, Kalla will encourage readers to search, count, and move along with him! This book is written in five different Inuktitut variations – South Baffin Inuktitut, Innuinnaqtun, North Baffin Inuktitut, Greenlandic, and Kivaliq – with translations provided in both English and French. Colour-coded text and a corresponding map will help readers distinguish the form of each variation, and the areas of Nunavut and Greenland that they are spoken. Kalla’s story is best suited for an early elementary audience, but older readers will appreciate a chance to explore the different language variations.

Wiijikiiwending by Rosemarie DeBungie [et al.] and Naadamaading : dibaajimowinan ji-nisidotaadingby Nancy Jones [et al.] – Birchbark Books

Written entirely in Anishinaabemowin,  Wiijikiiwending is a series of stories about the culture of the Anishinanaabe. Friendship, sharing, and respect are at the heart of these stories, whose main characters are all animals. With a playful balance between artwork and text and its striking black gutters, Wiijikiwending has a sleek appearance reminiscent of a graphic novel and is suitable for older elementary or early middle school readers. Naadamaading: dibaajimowinan ji-nisidotaadin is about Makoons and Nigigoons, two friends that learn about their Anishinanaabe culture through a combination of listening to their elders and embarking on their own adventures. This story is geared towards slightly younger readers, who will enjoy how its abundance of illustrations tie in with the narration. Both stories are written by Anishinanaabe first-language speakers and scholars, and Wiijikiiwending has been transcribed by second-language speakers.

This month’s display also has selections for readers interested in second language acquisition and Indigenous language research. For students looking to learn Anishinaabemowin, Learning Ojibwe : Anishinaabemowin maajaamigad, is a wonderful resource concentrating on vocabulary and syntax; telling the story of the construction of a hockey arena on Manitoulin Island, English translations are segmented vertically underneath Anishinaabemowin text and accompanied by an audio CD. For those interested in Indigenous language pedagogy, Indigenous youth and multilingualism : language identity, ideology, and practice in dynamic cultural worlds and Children’s language and multilingualism : indigenous language use at home and school are relevant reads, while Revitalizing Indigenous Languages: How to Recreate a Lost Generation is an encouraging research study about how revitalization efforts surrounding the Aanar Saami language in Finland can inspire similar efforts in other countries.

To borrow these selections and many more, please visit the Indigenous Display on the ground floor of OISE Library by the circulation desk. You are welcome to open the sliding case doors and browse, or ask a librarian for assistance!



Posted in Indigenous Ground Floor Display | Leave a comment

Featured Activity Kit: What Stands Between Us: Diversity Conversation Flashcards

These conversation cards are designed to ask difficult and uncomfortable questions. What Stands Between Us: Diversity Conversation Flashcards probe into the experiences of racialized and non-racialized individuals by asking questions that many might be afraid to ask or acknowledge in relation to race, discrimination, and privilege. They spark important and timely conversations, expanding students’ engagement with issues that are often addressed during Black History Month by fostering meaningful reflection on these issues as they manifest in students’ own lives.

The flashcards are divided into four categories: Questions by EuroAmericans for People of Colour, Questions by People of Colour for EuroAmericans, Questions that EuroAmericans Would Like to be Asked, and Questions that People of Colour Would Like to be Asked.

A classroom activity involving these flashcards might divide the class into two groups; as these groups face each other, they take turns drawing cards and posing the questions on the cards to the other group. Members of that other group then try to answer, with individuals identifying as either a Person of Colour or a EuroAmerican answering the questions as respectively directed. The class can then share their thoughts and feelings more broadly in response to these questions and answers, generating a greater awareness of the issues and emotions that are faced and experienced by individuals within these differently racialized groups.

Sample questions for individuals identifying as a Person of Colour include:

  • “What have you been through?”
  • “Have you ever felt uncomfortable because of your colour or ethnicity?”
  • “What are you most proud of about your ethnicity?”

Questions for EuroAmerican-identifying individuals include:

  • “What does it mean to you when you hear the word ‘racist’?”
  • “How do you feel about being with people who are different from you?”
  • “Do you realize the power you have and what you are doing with it?”

The conversations sparked by these cards will be deep and emotionally impactful; as such, this activity is recommended for older students. Many questions in this set are provocative and responses may be emotionally charged. Recognizing the inability for issues of race to be treated with neutrality is a part of this challenging learning activity, and care should be taken to exercise this activity with mindfulness and sensitivity. Teaching support can be found in many related academic and pedagogical books found in the OISE Library, including Deconstructing Privilege: Teaching and Learning as Allies in the Classroom edited by Kim A. Case, and  Promoting Diversity and Social Justice [electronic resource], by Diane J. Goodman. More research into these issues can be found in titles like Educators on Diversity, Social Justice, and Schooling: A Reader, edited by Sonya E. Singer and Mary Jane Harkins.

The What Stands Between Us: Diversity Conversation Flashcards kit comes with one guide and 338 question cards. It is currently on display on the third floor Display and Play area of the OISE Library. For more diversity-based activities, look through the OISE K-12 Manipulative Database or browse the third floor of the library.

Posted in Featured activity kit | Leave a comment