CIRCA:Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History


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"We need your help! A team of historians have been trying to solve some historical "cold cases" -- old crimes in which the guilty ones walked, and even more insidious crimes where a whole village may have been complicit." (Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History)

Originally conceived by Ruth Sandwell and John Lutz at the University of Victoria, the project started with the site "Who killed William Robinson?". The site introduced the project's standard format. By assembling and transcribing all the key documents surrounding a historical cold case the site serves two main purposes: first, to act as a virtual archive; second, to draw students’ interest into Canadian history and archival research with the promise of solving historical cold crimes. The format is less about finding the right answer than improving students’ critical thinking and research skills. Ideally, these skills should include critical reading, critical analysis/thinking, understanding different points of view and the ability to think historically.

In 2003 the project received funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage to create two new mystery archives ("We Do Not Know His Name: Klatsassin and the Chilcotin War" and "Aurore: The Mystery of the Martyred Child"). Since then, additional funding has allowed them to expand into nine other mysteries and their sister site, MysteryQuests, for shorter, age specific mysteries.

Each mystery site has a staff working on it comprised of funders, researchers, technical specialists, instructional specialists, translators, editors and administrators. The mystery's staff and institutions drawn from are credited in their respective mystery's "About Us" page.


The project is primarily for educational purposes. Though students are put in the position of ‘detective’, the sites are not just meant to entertain. The sites aim to make history interesting through a fun premise. By giving students the context and documents available to historians, it not only engages them with the raw material but it encourages them to make and defend their own interpreted histories.

The sites operate on four main levels but the level to which teachers push students depends on the skills of the group. The first two levels - first, Reading and Understanding Primary Documents; second, Exploring the Social History of Canadian Society - are accessible to grade school and junior high students. Levels three (Doing History) and four (What is History and How Can We Know It?) are aimed at undergraduate and grad students.

The project provides much material for teachers to adjust the site's material to their classes. Material ranges from teachers guides, activities and briefing sheets, discussions, a summary of foundational ideas behind the site, pre-made advertisements, and passwords to the historians' interpretations sections.

Criticism and Analysis

External Links

Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History Website

Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History: Mystery Quests Website

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