Hands-on Canadian History: Rebellion of 1837 Rebellion Box

Have you ever seen a Rebellion Box? What do you think it is?

Frustrated with the British government of its time, two different rebellions formed against it in 1837. The one in Upper Canada – which is part of Ontario today – was led by William Lyon Mackenzie. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very well planned or led, and the rebellion kind of fell apart as it marched towards Toronto, scattering men everywhere. In response, the British arrested hundreds of men and threw them in jail where they waited for trials.

Stuck in jail with nothing to do, men began crafting little wooden boxes out of the firewood. These boxes are now known as Rebellion Box. They are tiny – most being able to be held in one hand (probably to keep them hidden from guards), finely crafted, and have messages written on the sides and lids. These messages vary from personal notes to family members, to political comments.

To see some examples:

More information about these boxes:

hands-on Canadian history: Rebellion of 1837 - Rebellion box

Make a Rebellion Box

If you are skilled at woodworking – it could be a lot of fun to make your own rebellion box using the techniques displayed in the examples: dovetail corners, and high craftsmanship. If, however, you aren’t so adept at woodworking, you can buy a small wooden box at the dollar store or craft a model made from a cardboard box.

Materials needed:

  • a cardboard box of small size (like a Kleenex Box)
  • white tissue paper
  • white craft glue
  • brown paint
  • paint brushes


  • a finished wooden box


  • black felt tipped pen

Step 1. 

Make a mixture of white craft glue with a splash of water. Spread it over your box with a paintbrush and cover it with torn pieces of white tissue paper to create a paintable surface. Make sure the tissues are as smooth as possible (you can paint more glue mixture on top of them to smooth them down). Leave to dry.

Step 2. 

When dry, cover the box in brown paint. Leave to dry.

Step 3. 

Using a black marker, write your message.

Some suggestions: Add a to and from message. Make your main message poetic – with rhymes and meter. Draw artwork on your box. My son copied a glued on a drawing that he had just made on a recent nature walk that he was quite proud of and didn’t want to redraw from scratch.

When complete, your Rebellion Box can be a great gift to give someone special or you can keep it to display for yourself.

See all 31 Days of  Hands-on Canadian History.

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