Speakers for the Dead

Speakers for the Dead


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This documentary reveals some of the hidden history of Blacks in Canada. In the 1930s in rural Ontario, a farmer buried the tombstones of a Black cemetery to make way for a potato patch. In the 1980s, descendants of the original settlers, Black and White, came together to restore the cemetery, but there were hidden truths no one wanted to discuss. Deep racial wounds were opened. Scenes of the cemetery excavation, interviews with residents and re-enactments—including one of a baseball game where a broken headstone is used for home plate—add to the film's emotional intensity.

This film deals with mature subject matter. Viewer discretion is advised

You won’t find it in any history book but African Canadians inhabited the area near Priceville, Ontario in the 1830s. These were veterans of the War of 1812 who settled there after they were promised lands by the government but were forced to squat elsewhere when Whites were given the deeds to these lands. The Black community eventually disappeared but a link to this past remains: a cemetery. One that was later turned into a potato patch by a local farmer in the 1930s. Today, descendants of these settlers are trying to reclaim the cemetery but some members of the community feel it is best not to disturb the past. A powerful documentary on the connections to the past and the search for one’s identity.

Albert Ohayon
From the playlist: Canada’s Diverse Cultures

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Speakers for the Dead, David Sutherland & Jennifer Holness, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

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  • director
    David Sutherland
    Jennifer Holness
  • producer
    Peter Starr
  • executive producer
    Louise Lore
  • director of photography
    Carolyn Wong
  • editor
    Denis Takacs
  • sound recordist
    Sanjay Mehta
  • original music score
    Tom Third
  • post-production sound facility
    Trackworks Inc.
  • sound editor
    Tim Roberts
  • mixer
    Tim Roberts
  • dialogue editor
    David Drainie Taylor
  • assistant sound editor
    Timothy Mehlenbacher
  • foley artist
    John F. Thompson
  • foley engineer
    Steve Pollett
  • production supervision
    Kemp Archibald
    James Fiege
  • assistant production supervisor
    Michael Sardella
  • program administrator
    Ida Di Fruscia
  • administrative assistant
    Joanne Forrest
  • production administrative assistant
    Catherine Fletcher
  • production assistant
    Akhaji Zakiya
  • technical assistant
    Kevin Drysdale
  • cast
    Miriam Davis
    Sandra Holness
    David Holness
    Wayne Blackford
    Enid Barnet
    Caleb McMullen
    Christopher M. Quinn
    Irving Thomlinson
    Andrew Bee
    Rebecca M. Quinn
    Jason Friesen
    Leon Sutherland
    Corey Warren

  • Stephen F.

    I am feeling sad, angry and upset as I sit down to write this comment. I am not surprised by the content, in this film, as I am aware that racism has existed in our past in Canada and to the present. I was not aware of this shameful history so close to home. I am grateful to the creators of this film for shining a light on this period in our collective history. If we are to make this a better world for all of our citizens in the future, this very negative blemish needs to be a part of our history too! I feel such sadness for all the suffering perpetrated upon people of African descent here in Ontario and throughout the world. We all have to stand up to fight racism in all its forms in our society. It is the only way to move forward to a better society for all persons. I feel that we are at a turning point for real change and not just talk about waiting for a better time to do the right thing.

    Stephen F., 6 Mar 2021
  • tinatina

    Where any other tombstones found, besides the four found in the rock pile? Did they investigate the stable floor?

    tinatina, 3 Jul 2014
  • angel1

    I remember reading in the Owen Sound Times back in the early 90s about these gravestones that had been plowed under in an apparent attempt to wipe out the existance of the black cemetery. I never knew how this story ended. There was also the attempt to change the name of Negro Road to something else - also located in Grey County. Such a shame this type of desecration has been done to real history while the fabricated history persists.

    angel1, 31 Mar 2013
  • Merrill

    Beautiful film...and so necessary to be documented.

    Merrill, 25 Mar 2013
  • JudyDark

    Wow. Thank you Jennifer Holness and David Sutherland. I am very grateful for films like this that enlighten me to a history i really should have known. I recommend watching this film alongside 'Seeking Salvation'.

    JudyDark, 12 Nov 2010

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