Excerpt from Amazing Black Atlantic Canadians
Part of recognizing the place of Atlantic literature in a connected, global context is paying homage to all our region’s people and cultures, including those who have for too long been overlooked or misrepresented in our history books. Lindsay Ruck’s new book for young readers, Amazing Black Atlantic Canadians (illustrated by James Bentley), profiles 50 truly incredible individuals, historical and contemporary, and their achievements.
In these excerpts, the author introduces the humbling task of selecting and writing about so many Atlantic Black heroes, and filmmaker and poet Sylvia Hamilton is also introduced.
What does it mean to be amazing? Someone may be amazing because they’re in a hall of fame for reaching greatness in a sport. Others may be amazing because they’ve written stories or poems that people all around the world will read. Some are called amazing because they’ve performed in front of thousands of people—some have even shared their talent with kings and queens. Still others are amazing because they’ve taken a brave stand against racism and have used their voice for good. They’ve helped others in their community any way they can.
As an author, I love discovering fascinating stories about the people and places around me. When I was a girl, my grandfather would tell me stories about how Black soldiers in The Black Battalion struggled to be allowed to fight during the First World War; how the people of Africville were taken away from their beloved community and homes; and how the Black Loyalists first arrived in Atlantic Canada in search of a better life. As a family, we would visit the Black Cultural Centre of Nova Scotia and learn more about opera singer Portia White, journalist Carrie Best, and Canadian war hero Jeremiah Jones. My grandfather taught me the importance of Black Canadian history and those conversations are where my journey began in discovering more about the amazing individuals you’ll read about in this book.
Working on this book was a big task. I spent a lot of time reading history books and biographies. I did a lot of research on my computer to check facts and gather interesting tidbits. And I spoke with people across the Atlantic provinces who were eager to help me tell these stories. While this book features a lot of Black Atlantic Canadians, it’s important to know that not everyone was able to be included in these pages, but that does not mean they are any less amazing. I learned so much about the history of Black people in Atlantic Canada and my hope is that you too will not only learn, but also be inspired by these amazing men, women, and children.
For many of these individuals, it all started with a dream or drive to make a difference. They have worked hard to achieve what some would describe as the impossible. They’ve jumped over hurdles, broken down barriers, and beaten the odds to achieve greatness. And that is what makes each and every one of them truly amazing.
The first recorded Black people in Atlantic Canada date back to the 1600s. Some were brought to the Maritimes as enslaved people, while others arrived as free men and women who were searching for a better life. Moving to a new place and starting all over again isn’t always easy—especially if that new place is cold and you are used to warm weather. These men and women had to work very hard to provide for their families. Jobs weren’t easy to find, fertile land was hard to come by, and many had to get creative in order to find ways to survive. Some achieved great success in the Atlantic provinces, while others moved on not long after their arrival, but their legacy as the first Blacks in Atlantic Canada lives on through their ancestors. Their tales have been passed down from one generation to the next, so that we do not forget those who came before us and called Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, or Prince Edward Island home. Their stories, struggles, and triumphs are an important part of Canadian history.
As a young girl, Sylvia Hamilton rarely saw on television or read books about people who looked like her. In high school, she went to her first non-segregated school and noticed all of the textbooks didn’t really mention any Black history. From that moment, Sylvia knew she wanted to find out more about her ancestors and wanted to tell the stories that no one else was telling. And she’s found many creative ways to tell those stories.
As a filmmaker, Sylvia goes behind the camera and captures others who share their triumphs and struggles as Black Canadians through her film company called Maroon Films. As a poet, she’s written poems about hope, hurt, and faith. Sylvia gives a voice to Black men, women, and children who may otherwise not be heard.
Her documentary films have appeared in festivals around the world and have been broadcast on several television networks. Sylvia’s first film, Black Mother Black Daughter, was made with an entirely female crew, making it the first film out of the Atlantic studio of the National Film Board to be run completely by women. In 2000, Sylvia released a documentary about contralto opera singer Portia White called Portia White: Think on Me. Fittingly, in 2002, Sylvia received the Portia White Prize, which recognizes artistic excellence and achievement by a Nova Scotian artist.
When Sylvia began teaching at the School of Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax, her goal was to open her students up to the world around them. Her hope is that they will have far more experiences than she did when she was that young girl attending an integrated high school and craving to learn more about her history and her ancestors.