Sylvia D. Hamilton

Sylvia D. Hamilton

Inglis Professor

Sylvia D. Hamilton Sylvia D. Hamilton

BA (Acadia), MA, LL.D. (Dalhousie), D.Litt. (SMU), D.Litt (Acadia)

Sylvia D. Hamilton is a Nova Scotian filmmaker and writer who is known for her award-winning documentary films as well as her publications, public presentations, and extensive volunteer work with artistic, social, and cultural organizations at the local and national levels. Her films include Black Mother Black Daughter, Speak It! From the Heart of Black Nova Scotia, and  Portia White: Think On Me, a documentary about the legendary Canadian contralto Portia White, and The Little Black School House, an exploration of Canada’s segregated schools. Her films have been invited to festivals in Canada and abroad, and have been telecast on CBC Television, BRAVO, VISION, TVO and The Knowledge Network. They are extensively used in schools and universities across Canada. Prior to becoming involved in the film industry she worked as a radio journalist. Sylvia worked with the National Film Board’s Studio D (The Women’s Studio) where she co-created New Initiatives in Film, a program for women of colour and First Nations Women. She was a contributor to and co-editor of We’re Rooted Here and They Can’t Pull Us Up: Essays in African Canadian Women’s History, the first collection of its kind published in Canada. Her poetry and essays have appeared in a variety of Canadian publications.

Sylvia has been widely recognized for her work. Her awards include a Gemini, The Portia White Prize, the CBC Television Pioneer Award, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, among others. Sylvia was a mentor with the Trudeau Foundation, she has received three honorary degrees, and she has held The Nancy’s Chair in Women’s Studies at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax. She has served on and chaired many arts-related juries and was the national chair of the Women in Media Foundation. She has been invited to screen her films and to give keynote addresses at conferences, workshops, and public events across Canada and in Mexico, Jamaica, New York, San Francisco, Norway, and Mauritius among other locations.

Selected Filmography

  • We are One (2011)
  • The Little Black School House (2007)
  • Portia White:  Think On Me (2000)
  • Against the Tides:  The Jones  Family (Hymn to Freedom Series) (1994)
  • Speak It! From the Heart of Black Nova Scotia (1992)
  • Black Mother Black Daughter (1989)

Selected Publications

  • “Stories from The Little Black School House.” In Cultivating Canada: Reconciliation Through The Lens of Cultural Diversity, edited by Ashok Mathur, Jonathan Dewar and Mike DeGagne. Ottawa: Aboriginal Healing Foundation Research Series, 2011.
  • “Searching for Portia White.” In Rain/Drizzle/Fog: Film and Television in Atlantic Canada, edited by Darrell Varga (NSCAD). University of Calgary Press, 2008.
  • “Visualizing History and Memory in the African Nova Scotian Community.” In Multiple Lenses: Voices from the Diaspora Located in Canada, edited by David Devine (Dalhousie University). Halifax, 2007.
  • “A Daughter’s Journey.” Canadian Woman Studies /les cahiers de la femme 23, no. 2 (2004).
  • Sylvia Hamilton with Lorri Neilsen. “Memory Writ Large: Film and Inquiry.” In Provoked by Art: Theorizing Arts – Informed Inquiry. Backalong Books and The Centre for Arts-Informed Research, 2004.
  • Entries on Portia White, Richard Preston and Africville, for The Oxford Companion to Canadian History. Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • “What’s History Got To Do With It?” Background Paper, commissioned by the Department of Canadian Heritage. Ottawa, 2003.
  • “Naming Names, Naming Ourselves: A Survey of Early Black Women in Nova Scotia.” In We’re Rooted Here and They Can’t Pull Us Up: Essays in African Canadian Women’s History, edited by Peggy Bristow. University of Toronto Press, 1994.

Poetry appears in

  • West Coast Line
  • The Dalhousie Review
  • Fireweed and to Find Us:  Words and Images of Halifax


Documentary film and the role of media in society, women’s history, arts and culture, history and culture of African Canadians and Africans in the diaspora.

Sylvia Hamilton talks about the back story to the film Little Black Schoolhouse at Simon Fraser University in February 2009. See video here.