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Exploring Black Nova Scotia’s history through film

A Look at Black Excellence behind the camera

As the first high school graduate from Beechville in 1968 to attend university, much was expected of Sylvia D. Hamilton.

The Nova Scotian hasn’t disappointed.

A small rural community outside Halifax, Beechville was established by Black Refugees from the War of 1812 (they had liberated themselves to fight on the side of the British) and for the first four years of her elementary training, she attended a segregated school.

Hamilton said the only reference to Black people she had in school books was a short paragraph about ‘Negroes in Nova Scotia’, in a small Grade 5 text book. It was difficult for her to connect that passage to herself and the people she saw while growing up.

“The lack of information about Black people in Nova Scotia and Canada continued throughout my years of schooling and into university,” the award-winning filmmaker said. “I decided that if I really wanted to know that history, I needed to first speak with the elders in the communities and also dig into the archives and search for that information about myself. Once I started that search, I realized that if I could find ways to share what I was finding with others, then that would be an important goal and I could also reflect and give back that information to the many communities of people of African descent who also experienced being ignored or made invisible within the school curriculum.”

– Sylvia Hamilton
Sylvia Hamilton

“I also wanted to pay tribute to the ancestors because I realized when I started to dig deeply into the history how much courage my ancestors, particularly the Black Refugees from the War of 1812, had in order to do what they did. I wanted to make sure that sacrifice was understood.”

– Sylvia Hamilton

After graduating from Acadia University with her first degree, Hamilton started working in social and community development at an alternative school for high school dropouts in Halifax and with community-based organizations across the country through Company of Young Canadians in the 1970s and, in the 1980s, she managed programs at the federal department of Secretary of State in Halifax.  

As a trained journalist, she worked for private radio stations and freelanced with the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) before transitioning to filmmaking to visually convey the life experiences of African Nova Scotians to the mainstream of Canadian arts.

Sylvia Hamilton on set

Hamilton’s first documentary, ‘Black Mother Black Daughter’ explored some of the powerful women that shaped her life and Nova Scotia’s Black community.

She and Claire Prieto co-directed the project for the National Film Board (NFB) Atlantic Centre. Released in 1989, it was the first film created by the Centre to employ an all-female crew.

To see the entire article, please read it here!

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