Sylvia Hamilton was born in the historically black community of Beechville, Nova Scotia, west of Halifax. The second youngest child of six to Gerald Hamilton, a labourer, and Marie Hamilton, a teacher. Hamilton first attended a segregated all-black primary school and then switched to a non-segregated high school outside of her community. She earned post-secondary degrees, including a BA from Acadia University, an MA from Dalhousie University and three honorary degrees from Saint Mary’s, Dalhousie and Acadia Universities. From 2001 to 2004 she held Nancy’s Chair in Women’s Studies at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax. Hamilton taught at Acadia University and has given lectures at the University of New Brunswick, Memorial, Queens, York and Simon Fraser universities, and at Middlebury College in Vermont, as well as the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.
Prior to becoming involved in the film industry, Sylvia Hamilton worked in cable television, as a radio journalist and as a freelance broadcaster. She worked with the National Film Board’s Studio D in Montreal where she co-created New Initiatives in Film (NIF), the first specific program of its kind designed to provide opportunities for women of colour and First Nations women from across Canada to make films. As Chair of the Women in Media Foundation (formerly the WTN Foundation) she lead the creation of technical training programs for girls and women in the television/film industry.
Honoured with numerous awards for her work, Hamilton was given a Gemini Award for her 1993 film Speak It! From the Heart of Black Nova Scotia. Other awards include the Japan Broadcasting Corporation’s Maeda Prize, the Progress Women of Excellence Award for Arts and Culture, the CBC Television Pioneer Award, and Nova Scotia’s Portia White Prize for Excellence. She was given the National Film Board Kathleen Shannon Documentary Award for Black Mother Black Daughter at the 1990 the Yorkton Short Film and Video Festival and the Rex Tasker Award for Best Atlantic Canadian Documentary for Speak It! From the Heart of Black Nova Scotia at the Atlantic Film Festival in 1993. She was a 2008 Mentor with The Trudeau Foundation.
Also see: Sylvia Hamilton’s filmography.