Teaching D-Day

| January 13, 2017

In classrooms across the country, students learn that Canadian troops landed on Juno Beach on 6 June 1944, as part of a larger allied invasion commonly known as D-Day. But they don’t all learn it in the same way.

One of our Summer Institute alumni, Scott Powers, decided to take his history students outside of the classroom. He didn’t want his students to only read about D-Day or hear him talk about D-Day, he wanted to give them an opportunity to really experience and understand the conditions that Canadian troops faced.

The Germans had the advantage as the Canadians approached the beach. They had the high ground, and were familiar with the area. They were dry, and didn’t have to worry about their guns being flooded or tanks sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The Canadians were faced with a task that must have seemed impossible: infiltrate Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, take the beach.

Long walks on the beach are often romanticized – that’s not with this was. Obstacles blocked every path, and bullets were flying.

Scott decided to try to replicate some of this chaos. With former students playing the role of the Germans and armed with small bags of flour, he set his history class up at the edge of Lake Winnipeg, in Gimli, Manitoba. Then he gave the order, “Take the beach!”

The students ran up the beach. Their objective was to make it to the other end without getting hit with flour ammunition. Any student to be hit with flour sat down, now a casualty. Out of the 52 students running for safety, only 13 made it off the beach. The lesson? Much bigger than the difficulties of getting flour off your clothes. The idea is to provide students with an experience that allows them to live history; it encourages them to get inside of the history and appreciate what is being taught to them in a much deeper way than simple textbook lessons.

How do you teach Canadian military history? Have an innovative story or lesson plan? We’d love to hear about them! Comment, or send us an email.

For lesson ideas, check out our selection of tools and resources on VimytoJuno.ca.


Dispatches from Juno shares all the news, events, and stories from the Juno Beach Centre in France and Canada. Interested in contributing a story to the blog? Email the editor at jbca@junobeach.org.

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