Past Events

UNB Art Centre Celebrates Black History Month February 2015 

with Poet and Filmmaker Sylvia D. Hamilton

In celebration of Black History Month, the UNB Art Centre is pleased to welcome Sylvia D. Hamilton to Memorial Hall for a poetry reading on Thursday, February 5 at 7:00 PM.

Event Details Here:

Film Screening Schedule Here:


And I Alone Escaped to Tell You, Reading at York University

Recently, York’s Canadian Writers in Person course and lecture series presented poet Sylvia D. Hamilton reading from her book of poetry And I Alone Escaped to Tell You. Special correspondent Chris Cornish (BA Hons. ’04, MA ’09) sent the following report to YFile.  Read the article here:

The Little Black School House

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The Little Black School House: An unflinching look at the heart of racial inequality in Canada

Produced, Written and Directed by Sylvia D. Hamilton, Maroon Films Inc.

Music composed by Joe Sealy, Cinematography by Kent Nason, Edited by John Brett, Sound by Dan Stewart


This one-hour documentary unearths the story of the children, women, men who were students and teachers in Canada’s racially segregated schools. With a vibrant musical score composed by jazz legend, Joe Sealy, it is a poignant and unfailingly honest evocation of the struggle of African Canadians to gain dignity and equality through education. Extraordinary archival film footage, rare photographs, and touching first hand accounts from past students, teachers, historians and community leaders, are interwoven in this unflinching look at the heart of racial inequality in Canada. Shot on location in villages and cities in Ontario and Nova Scotia, the film is a compelling illustration of how many of the students who attended Canada’s all-Black schools look back on the experience with conflicted feelings: fondness for the dedication of their Black teachers, and outrage at being denied a right, fundamental to democracy in Canada: equal access to quality education.

Quotations from the film:

“There was a legal framework that permitted segregated schools.”

Professor Michelle Williams, Director of the Indigenous Black and Miqmaq Law Program, Dalhousie University

“Education was the most important facet of Black life.”

Elise Harding Davis, former curator of the North American Black Historical Museum.

“I remember going through school and thinking how denigrated and embarrassed I was by our books…I wanted to sink under the seat.”                  

Thelma Coward Ince, Community Elder

“I told myself when I become a teacher I’m going to change all these negative things I had to cope with.”

Florence Bauld, Retired teacher


Stories from The Little Black School House by Sylvia D. Hamilton

This article explores the history and memory of Canada’s all-Black segregated schools and the attendant struggle of African Canadians to ensure that their children have access to the full educational opportunities promised by Canadian society. Through advocacy, and a legacy of resistance, and by dint of committed work, teachers, community leaders, and parents fought for many generations to turn the ‘promise’ of freedom into reality.

Canadians can no longer engage in the dance of denial about the misery caused by the forced evacuation of Aboriginal and Inuit children when they were ripped from their families only to be placed in separate, segregated residential facilities, which, while called “schools,” bore little resemblance to the caring, nurturing educational environment this word evokes. Rather, they were locations, sites of memory, where abuse and racism reigned. Why did this happen? In a word: race, the socially, not biologically constructed category that has stratified and negatively affected humans for generations, and what theorist W.E.B. Dubois spoke of when he said, “[t]he problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.”1 What is not widely known or remembered is that in two Canadian provinces, because of their race, a large number of African Canadian children were also required by law to attend separate, segregated schools.

Full Article here:

“Hurtful Times Documentary exposes history of Canada’s segregated schools”

“The Little Black Schoolhouse” – by Marie Weeren, Dalhousie News – Dalhousie University

 Video Extracts from a lecture at Simon Fraser University

The Backstory of the Film

Visual Landscape and Film Structure

The Role of Music

For DVD Purchases Use Contact Us.

Notes For a Talk: Excavation: A Site of Memory, Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

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Images from the Dalhousie Art Gallery and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic Installations

Introducing Excavation: A Site of Memory

Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, November  6, 2014

My ancestors, the Black Refugees, were people with emotions, feelings, imagination and great ingenuity. They had to be, had to be ingenious in order to survive. They had agency, a sense of themselves, and something beyond themselves. They shared this with other early Africans in Nova Scotia, those enslaved, the Freedom Runners as I prefer to call them, the Black Loyalists and the Maroons from Jamaica.

This installation stands in opposition to the paternalism and racism that tried to shape their experiences. It stands in opposition to the language used to describe African people. I remind myself: they were not the language. They were people.

There were efforts to erase us, to pretend we did not exist. That we did not count. Everything that I learned growing up, that I learned in community and that I’ve seen since has challenged this idea, actively resisted this idea. My life’s work, and this installation as part of it, has been a way to talk back to that absence in the historical record:  A way to demonstrate and document resistance, resilience and defiance, sometimes in quiet ways, and sometimes in more vocal ways– but resistance nonetheless– to say we are here, we were here, we are here.

And I am here, because they were.

I recall the first experience of going to the Nova Scotia Archives in mid 1970’s perhaps 1975. I was researching the African United Baptist Association (AUBA) for a special issue I was editing of GRASP,  the newspaper of the Black United Front, an advocacy organization for people of African descent in Nova Scotia.

I remember reading old original copies of the AUBA minutes from the late 1800s into the 1900s and being struck by the detail and the information they contained—a picture, a landscape of Black communities. It felt as if I was actually touching my history. Up to that point, in schools and even university, I had  little, if anything about me. There was the Nova Scotia school book you see in the display case with a few paragraphs about Negroes of Nova Scotia.

And of course that—Visits to Other Lands geography book with the African children—Bunga and Simba—names that added to the name caller’s lexicon.

But that experience in the archives I think settled something within me, within my bones. From then on, and up to the present day, I’ve been engaged in a process– trying to understand, trying to make sense of my history, and  to find ways to bring that history, those experiences into public view.

It was also during that period—the late 70’s– that along with my friend and companion researcher, Savannah Williams, of Surry, Virginia, and then Public Archivist, the late Hugh Taylor, we mounted the first ever exhibition, a public display of a series of archival documents related to African people in Nova Scotia. It was exhilarating; it was tremendous to bring this material out of the stacks, out of the special boxes and folders and place it on public display. Many people came out to see that exhibit. They saw—witnessed—documents that had only accessed by academics and researchers.

My work here at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic has earlier roots, origins—dating back so many years ago. But, it was about 10 years ago during a residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts that I first conceptualized the idea for this installation. I had a small studio and created a pilot of some of my ideas.

The Intra-Nation Residency and artists came from around the world. When I mounted the newspaper ads for the ‘runaways’  whom I choose to call  freedom runners, there was shock and surprise, not only from the international artists, but from the Canadian artists too. “Not here in Canada, wasn’t that in the US? What about the Underground Railroad and freedom, “ etc, etc. It was difficult for them to grapple with Canada as a slave society.

Last fall, October 2013, I was able to fully install and realize the idea for this project at the Dalhousie Art Gallery. And now, here at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, it sits beside Prize and Prejudice: Nova Scotia and War of 1812. I appreciate the  opportunity to mount this work in another temporal site of memory.

The names you see on the large scrolls came from the archival record documenting enslaved African people, the  free Black Loyalists and the free Black Refugees—more than 3000 names. When I wrote some of the poems on display and that appear in my poetry collection, And I Alone Escaped to Tell you, I was unaware of the Black Refugee letters that you see in Prize and Prejudice—what a profound experience to read them and to think of the imagined narratives I created out of my deep engagement with our history. Standing before the display case of artifacts excavated at Beechville, my home community, once called Refugee Hill, left me emotionally drained, and at the same time, full of the spirits of my ancestors who walked the same ground as I did as a child.

They were real, they were there. I am because they were.

The Poem The Passage, that sits above the Memory Table has the line “the Severn in full sail behind us.” The Severn, was a slaver—a ship that kidnapped Africans. In Prizes and Prejudice you will see the history of this ship given a new name, the Liverpool Packet.

Of late, Tall Ships sail into Halifax in all of their glory and splendor.  Standing watching them, I think not of their splendor but that their earlier versions were also slavers, like the Liverpool Packet– sailing the Middle Passage capturing my ancestors.

Some say, this is difficult stuff—why do we need to drag up the past.

But as writer, essayist James Baldwin once wrote:

                     If history were past, history wouldn’t matter.   

                     History is present…You and I are history. We carry our history.

                     We act our history.

 This installation is one way I act my history, our history.

I am because they were.   I am who they imagined.