The Representing History category includes works that depict important figures, landmark events and scenes of economic and social life in Canada. Some of these works were commissioned by governments to highlight a particular occasion; others underscore criticism of a specific political or social situation. Representations of history are never neutral: the style, composition and medium invariably play a role in the denunciation or commemoration of the subject.
The Making History category covers works that have earned a place in history for their originality, their favourable reception or their tendency to arouse controversy. These works, which brought the artists to prominence, are milestones of a Canadian art history constructed in the second half of the 20th century. They include great Canadian landscapes, diploma works from the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts and works that made history because of their avant-garde style.
The Expanding History category is composed of works that are little known or were made by artists working mainly outside Canada. Some of them share a propensity for personal, even autobiographical, subject matter. Others were produced using technologies new at the time, such as the fax machine and light projection. All of them offered novel sensory experiences for viewers accustomed to traditional Canadian art.
The works in the Reopening History category either appropriate existing artworks, revisit events or reuse common objects, such as maps. Some of these updated versions offer a critical take on the way certain subjects – notably Indigenous peoples – have been depicted in the past. Others invite reflection on a particular medium, such as photography or quilting.