A Celebration of History Makers

The most powerful encounters with history often begin with a single story.

Written by Janet Walker

Posted March 11, 2020

A compelling tale can make a big impact — sparking our imagination, nurturing empathy, or putting historical events into context. Through the lens of a single story we can ask questions, engage in conversations, and evaluate ideas that reveal larger patterns and themes. Personal histories can help to fill gaps created by traditional historical narratives and can make complicated histories more accessible to learners of all ages.

Sylvia D. Hamilton has spent her career enriching and reframing conceptions of Canadian history and its subjects. For more than forty years, the public historian from Grand Pré, Nova Scotia, has researched and documented the lives and experiences of African Canadians in her films, writing, art installations, and public presentations.

In January 2020, Hamilton was among seventeen recipients of a 2019 Governor General’s History Award. The awards were presented at Rideau Hall in Ottawa by Her Excellency The Right Honourable Julie Payette. For making an indelible mark on Black history in Canada, Sylvia received the Governor General’s History Award for Popular Media: The Pierre Berton Award.

“I consider it recognition not only for my work but significantly for the people — African Canadians — who have so generously encouraged me to share their stories. I hope it says to them: your stories, contributions, and your lives do matter here.”

Other history makers from across the country had similar impacts by making the personal stories big and the big stories personal. The 2019 award recipients shared their perspectives with the national history community at the twelfth Canada’s History Forum in Gatineau, Quebec. These leaders in their fields discussed how they use the stories of individuals, families, places, and communities to form meaningful connections to larger moments in Canadian history.

Uncovering the struggles and accomplishments of African Canadians and sharing them with wide audiences has been Sylvia Hamilton’s life’s work. Using the power of a single story, she gives public relevance to a private experience, igniting a flame in each of us to learn, to listen, to remember, and to understand.

Learn more about the award recipients.

Watch the presentations from the Canada’s History Forum.

This article originally appeared in the April-May 2020 issue of Canada’s History.

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