Mention to Lawrence Hill that Black history in Canada is untold and he’ll clarify.
“People have been telling stories in writing about Black history in Canada for decades, so it’s not untold but it’s unheard by most Canadians,” said the U of G professor of creative writing and author of 11 works of fiction and non-fiction.
Hill is part of a long line of writers, novelists, journalists, activists and academics — including his own parents, Dr. Daniel and Donna Hill, co-founders of the Ontario Black History Society — who have been documenting Black history for decades. “But still to this day, most Canadians from Whitehorse to St. John’s are happily oblivious to the stories of Black people in Canada.”
Black Loyalists, the Underground Railroad and Canada’s Black history
Hill’s work detailing the stories of the Black Loyalists in Canada, the back-to-Africa migration and the Underground Railroad made him a natural collaborator for BLK: An Origin Story, a new docuseries from executive producers Jen Holness and Sudz Sutherland.
Hill sees the four-part series, premiering Feb. 26 on the History Channel Canada, as an effective way to reach a new audience of Canadians, exposing what he calls “a vital and sadly neglected history.”
“Absolutely the medium will be an exciting addition to the way we tell these stories.”
As a child in Canada in the 1960s, he learned Black history “around the table” at home and from the work of his parents because there was no exposure in school. “It’s getting better, but the teaching has been abysmal.
“The stories of Black people are rich and diverse and colourful and fascinating.”
Exciting viewers about Black history in Canada
Getting these stories to people in a visual format will, he said, will “inject some life” into the curriculum of Canadian history classes, leaving viewers with a greater interest in Black history in Canada and an appreciation “for the struggles, successes and resilience of Black people in this country.”
Hill spent a handful of hours on set for interviews that highlighted his expertise in the stories of Black Canadians and sharing excerpts from some of his works to bring an element of drama to the storytelling.
There are many ways to excite people about Black history, he said. “One of them is to get scholarly and academic, but another way is to get dramatic. The human struggle dramatized is what excites someone to learn more about history.”
As an author of Black history for more than 30 years, Hill knew right away he wanted to be part of the project and that it would have an impact. “I wanted to be part of any effort that’s going to galvanize and excite the public about Black history in this country.”