Hard Histories: Approaching Difficult Topics in Canadian History

The 15th Canada's History Forum

Hosted by Canada’s History Society

Posted February 13, 2023

Four head shots of the guest speakers David A. Robertson, Afua Cooper, James Miles and Anne Marguet.

Museums, educators, researchers, and heritage organizations are increasingly seeking ways to address difficult and sensitive historical topics in a respectful and inclusive manner. Topics such as colonialism, genocide, and other forms of injustice and violence can be contested or traumatic and it can be challenging to know how to approach this content appropriately.

How can we initiate respectful and productive conversations about hard histories? How can we acknowledge past injustices against traditionally marginalized communities, while also recognizing the agency and dignity of all individuals involved? How can we empower audiences to confront the ongoing legacies that have resulted from these histories?

The Canada’s History Forum featured presentations from experts in a range of fields that explore best practices for dealing with difficult history in museum exhibitions, public programming, teaching, and research. This event aimed to provide attendees with the knowledge, resources, and confidence needed to approach sensitive historical content in a responsible and effective manner.

This event featured presentations from:

Watch the presentations

Approaching Difficult Histories in Canada

James Miles is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Arts and Humanities at Teachers College, Columbia University. His research explores the teaching and learning of difficult histories in settler colonial contexts and the role of history education in historical redress.

Teaching on the Frontlines of Reconciliation

David A. Robertson (he, him, his) was the 2021 recipient of the Writers’ Union of Canada Freedom to Read Award as well as the Globe and Mail Children’s Storyteller of the Year. He is the author of numerous books for young readers including When We Were Alone, which won the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award.

Aborder l'Holocauste

Anne Marguet has a master's degree in history, with a specialization in the history of migrations in the 20th century. She was a high school history teacher, first in France and then in Quebec, for 20 years. She has held the position of education coordinator at the Montreal Holocaust Museum since 2019.

Slavery, Segregation and Anti-Black Racism in Canada: Trauma and Legacies

Multidisciplinary scholar, author, and artist, Dr. Afua Cooper is a fellow at the Warren Center for Studies in American History, Harvard University. She is the Principal Investigator for A Black People’s History of Canada project housed at Dalhousie University where she teaches and holds a Killam Research Chair.



ACS-Metropolis Institute. Reconciliation and Reckoning: Contesting Canada’s Past, Framing Its Future.

Canadian Museum of History. Tips for Teaching Difficult History.

Epstein, T. & Peck, C. L. (Eds.) (2018). Teaching and Learning Difficult Histories in International Contexts: A Critical Sociocultural Approach (264 pp.) Routledge.

Gibson, Lindsay & James Miles. “Commemoration controversies in classrooms: Canadian history teachers disagree about making ethical judgments”. The Conversation.

Gibson, Lindsay. “Questioning the Past.” Canada's History magazine, Feb-March 2019.

Miles, J. (2018). Teaching history for truth and reconciliation: The challenges and opportunities of narrativity, temporality, and identity. McGill Journal of Education, 53(2).

Miles, James (edited by Lindsay Gibson). Thinking about Historical Commemorations

Classroom Resources

Who do we remember...and how? Kayak: Canada’s History Magazine for Kids. 

Lesson Plan: Preparing for Difficult Conversations. Canada’s History. 

Thinking about Historical Commemorations. The Critical Thinking Consortium (TC2).


A Black People's History of Canada

ActiveHistory / HistoireEngagée

Contested Histories in Public Spaces

Facing History and Ourselves Canada

Landscapes of Injustice

Montreal Holocaust Museum (view a pdf reference guide for educators.)

Social Studies & History Education in the Anthropocene Network

Source Story

Thinking Historically for Canada’s Future

Know a teacher who made a difference?

Nominate them today for the Governor General's History Award for Excellence in Teaching!


But please note: the nomination is just a first step; once nominated, nominees usually finish the application themselves and require a reasonable amount of time to respond to questions and collect supporting documents.


The deadline for this year’s award is April 30, 2023.

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