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Working with History: Labour History and Teaching

26 April Image

Given the news coverage of the Public Service Alliance of Canada strike and the debate around work-from-home versus in-person, there is no better opportunity to talk about labour history in the classroom. This is especially true for this week, as May Day, also known as Workers’ Day or International Workers’ Day, is on May 1st.

Students at the elementary or high school level probably have not participated in a labour movement unless a family member is already active within one, but a growing number of students will know terms like “union,” “collective agreement,” and “strike” based on their experience in a unionized retail space, such as a grocery store. However, the significance of each term or idea may be difficult to convey to those without prior knowledge.

For this week’s blog post, we have put together a short list of labour education resources that you can use in the classroom. This list is not intended to be a recap of labour history content, but a list of effective teaching tools to allow students to ask questions about labour history that they might otherwise not be exposed to. Many of these materials involve roleplay (RP). RP situations offer students the chance to place themselves into the circumstances of another group across a time and place, and to ask students to think of solutions to a problem the historical group faced.

Are there any resources we missed? We would love to hear from you about how you incorporate labour history into the classroom!



Alberta Labour History Institute: Similar to the BCLHC, Alberta has its own Labour History Institute. They too have a collection of interviews, photos, videos, and calendar events that focus primarily on Alberta’s workers.


British Columbia

BC Labour Heritage Centre: The BCLHC has several interviews and lesson plans for teachers that can be adaptable to many settings beyond the grade twelve classroom.


Simon Fraser University’s Labour Studies Department: In addition to the BCLHC materials, SFU’s department of labour studies has put together a small collection of materials designed for the grade 12 classroom.


New Brunswick

The bilingual site for Labour History in New Brunswick/Histoire du travail au Nouveau-Brunswick is now located at the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick: https://archives.gnb.ca/lhtnb/Welcome_en-CA.aspx and the site includes Lesson Plans related to several of the features on the site, as well as a set of Modules pédagogiques based on the French-language school curriculum.

North America

The Labor and Working Class History Association (LAWCHA): Although rooted in the United States, some of this material would be complimentary to any lessons taught on the Great Depression https://www.lawcha.org/teaching-labors-story/

For a variety of narratives that rescue workers’ history’ see the Remember-Resist-Redraw series from the Graphic History Project:


Note also the very active Toronto Workers’ History Project: https://twhp.ca/about-us/

World Wide

Working Class History.com: Labour history does not just occur in Canada, but all over the world. workingclasshistory.com offers an extensive podcast collection and interactive map feature that students can use to hear the stories and locate events in places that are relevant to them.

(Please listen to the episodes before using them in the classroom in case of content not suitable for your age group).



Some labour heritage centres do not offer as much digital material as others and their collections are held at a physical museum. Two museums that come to mind are:

The Workers Arts and Heritage Centre, Hamilton, Ontario (https://wahc-museum.ca/)


Écomusée du fier monde, Montréal, Québec (https://dev.ecomusee.qc.ca/)