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40 Canadians


To introduce youth to the South African War through remembering the Canadians who died during that conflict.


Students will be expected to:

  • do a research project on a South African War soldier using government Web sites;
  • present their findings to the class.

Target Audience

This activity is suitable for youth in grades 7 to 12, aged 12-18.

Sequence of Activities and Anticipated Time Frame: 160 minutes

[This activity can be modified to fit available class time.]

  • Introduction (5 minutes)
  • Research (120 minutes)
  • Presentation (30 minutes)
  • Conclusion (5 minutes)

Required Materials

Background (15 minutes)

The South African War (1899-1902) was the first overseas conflict in which Canada, as a young country, participated. This conflict has mostly been forgotten by Canadians, in part because of the magnitude of the First World War that raged less than twenty years later.

However, the South African War saw the participation of more than 7,000 Canadian volunteers, approximately 280 of whom died. While some from battles injuries, more at them died of illness.

The South African War was fought more than 100 years ago, at a time when technology was not as advanced as today. Yet, photography had been invented in the 1840s and, although still not widely available at the time, it was used to capture images that have been preserved for posterity. We are fortunate to have access to pictures or drawings of 40 Canadians who died in the South African War. These 40 individuals will be the subject of this research activity.

Students will write a biography of a fallen Canadian and present his profile to the class. Researching the life story of one of these brave men is a way of honouring the more than 7,000 volunteers of the South African War. "You can't see the forest for the trees" the adage says. By having students focus on one individual (the "tree"), the goal is that they will remember all those who served (the "forest").


Show the South African War Facebook photo montage page to the class. Indicate that these people are 40 Canadians who died in the South African War. Inform the class that they will be researching the individuals displayed on that page.


Using the list of 40 Canadians who died during the South African War, assign one name per student or per group. Students will create a Soldier Memorial Page.

Inform the class they will search for information about their soldier using two Government of Canada websites.

Type of information to include in the Soldier Memorial Page:

  • Name
  • Date of death
  • Place of death
  • Service number
  • Military rank
  • Force (Branch of service)
  • Military unit
  • Burial information
  • Medical record
  • Place of birth
  • Place of enlistment
  • Siblings/relatives
  • Decorations
  • Interesting facts

How to search on Canadian Virtual War Memorial (CVWM)

  1. Go to the Canadian Virtual War Memorial Web page and scroll down to the middle of the page:
  2. Type in the last name of your soldier in the 'Surname' search box. Given name, initial and year of death are optional but can be useful to narrow down the search. Click 'Search'.
  3. Click on your soldier’s "Surname".
  4. You can find additional information on that page by selecting:
  5. Click on the pictures to enlarge and find additional information on the individual.
  6. Use the information to create your Soldier Memorial Page.

How to search on the Soldiers of the South African War (1899 - 1902) database

  1. Go to the Soldiers of the South African War (1899 - 1902) database.
  2. Type in the last name of your soldier in the 'Surmane' box. Given name, Regimental number and Regiment are optional but can be useful to narrow down your search. Click 'Submit'.
  3. Locate your soldier and click on his name. If there is more than one entry for your soldier, make sure to click on the line where there is an 'X' in 'Digital Image'. It means that there are images of pages of his file. If there is more than one, start with 'Service files' in the 'Type of records' category.
  4. Click on 'View Image' in the upper left corner:
  5. You can select all the pages available in the soldier’s file by clicking on the numbers or the arrows beside 'Page Navigation.
  6. Use the information to create your Soldier Memorial Page.


Have students compile the information and create their Soldier Memorial Page. Use the software of your choice. Ask students to present their soldier to the class.

Display all the Soldier Memorial Pages in the classroom or in the hallway of your school. You may want to invite local veterans or Canadian Forces members for the presentations. You could also display the Soldier Memorial Pages at a remembrance ceremony.


During this learning activity, students have focused their attention on one individual. They have also learned about a few others who died during the South African War. You may want to take this opportunity to remind them that approximately 280 Canadians died during that conflict and more than 7,000 served.

Ask students if they have seen South African War memorials in their hometown. You can explore on the Search for a Memorial page on the National Defence and the Canadian Forces Web site to see if there is one nearby.

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