Animals in Literature

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Howdy, I’m John Ware

Howdy, I’m John Ware tells the story of Alberta’s legendary Black cowboy. John Ware was born into slavery in the southern United States. Once slavery was abolished, he made his way up to Canada by herding cattle on horseback, making a name for himself as a tough and competent cowboy. Treating his animals with respect and kindness, John Ware eventually became one of Alberta’s most respected ranchers.

Why use this book?

  • Highlights a historical Black figure in Alberta’s history
  • Highlights the strong connection and relationship people can have with an animal, known as the human-animal bond.
  • Introduces the topic of slavery and racism in Canada and the US.

Animal Welfare Considerations:

  • Branding of cattle is depicted in this book. Branding causes acute pain and stress in cattle likely lasting several weeks, however it is required in some cases for cattle identification. Fewer than 10% of all cattle in Canada receive brands, and this number has been declining. All cattle require radio frequency identification (RFID) ear tags when they leave the farm.

Ask your students:

  • What does it mean to be a slave?
  • Why do you think John Ware does not like to talk about his time as a slave?
  • Did Canada have slaves? Yes, between 1629 and 1834 there were more than 4000 enslaved people of African descent in the British and French colonies that are now Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, PEI and New Brunswick.
  • How do you think John Ware felt leaving his family after slavery was made illegal in the United States? Explain.
  • How and why did Bill Moodie stick up for John Ware?
  • Has a friend ever stuck up for you? How did it make you feel?
  • Why is it important to support friends?
  • What challenges did John Ware face while in Canada? Do you think people still face these kinds of challenges today? Explain.
  • John Ware said he connected with animals. What do you think he meant by this? Explain.
  • Do you connect with animals? If so, how?
  • Why is it important to care for animals and show them love and respect?
  • Why do you think John Ware is an important historical Canadian figure?


  • Prominent People
    • John Ware is one of many important historical Black Canadians, who left an impact on the country. As a class, watch the short video ‘Black rancher John Ware names a Canadian of national historical significance’ (2:13). Ask students:
      • Why was John Ware named a Canadian of national historic significance?
      • What other Canadians could be on that list?
      • What other Black Canadians could be on that list?
    • Then, as a class go through other historical Black Canadians using this Government of Canada website. Individually or in pairs, have students pick a figure to learn more about. Then have students research this person using the 5Ws.
      • Who is the historical Black Canadian?
      • What are they known for?
      • Where are they from? Where did they live?
      • When in Canadian history?
      • Why are they a significant part of Canadian history?
    • Have students share what they discovered with the class.
  • Positive Interactions
    • John Ware said his secret to being such a good cowboy was that he ‘connected with animals’. He cared about them, showed them love and respect and in turn they gave their best for him.
    • Ensuring you positively interact with an animal is an important way of meeting an animal’s needs. As a class, watch the video ‘Five Needs of Animals – Positive Interactions’ (5:14). While watching the video, have students make note of the different ways people can interact with animals in a positive way.
    • Have students pick an example from the video, or have them research a way to positively interact with an animal of their choosing, and create a poster to help spread the message. Display the posters around the school for students and staff to see.
  • Additional Activities
    • There are a handful of excellent recommended activities at the back of the book that focus on critical, creative, historic and geographic thinking as well as decision making and problem solving.

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