Acts of resistance in the face of violence in the late 18th century by Chloe Cooley, an enslaved Black woman in Upper Canada, inspired Canada’s first legislation limiting slavery.
UWindsor alumna Alison Duke (BHK 1989, MHK 1991) tells her story in a Heritage Minute which first aired in February during Black History Month. Heritage Minutes, first released in 1991, are 60-second films, each depicting a significant person, event, or story in Canadian history.
Duke is the first Black woman to direct one, and the project is the first of its kind for the company she co-founded, OYA Media Group.
“We typically produce TV documentaries, short films, and digital nonfiction web series,” she says.
Her previous work includes co-writing and -producing the 2019 television documentary Mr. Jane and Finch, winner for best social/political documentary and best writing for a documentary at the Canadian Screen Awards; and directing the 2020 fiction short Promise Me, currently touring the festival circuit after winning the Winston W. Moxam award for best Canadian short film at the 2020 AfroPrairie Film Festival.
The Chloe Cooley Heritage Minute involved a cast of six actors plus about 48 crew and an additional six technicians in post-production, says Duke, noting the entire process took about six months: “Every detail on screen in terms of props, sets, clothing had to go through an approval process.”
It portrays Cooley’s resistance on the estate of Adam Vrooman: refusing to work or temporarily leaving the property without permission. With rumours of abolition circulating in 1793, Vrooman and his men kidnapped her and violently forced her on a boat across the Niagara River to the United States. Witnesses, including the free man Peter Martin, later testified to her resistance in the face of this violent removal, leading to Canada’s first legislation limiting slavery, although it was not abolished until 1834.
“It would be amazing if all Canadians could take a moment to watch Chloe Cooley’s Heritage Minute and reflect upon Canada’s history with slavery,” Duke says. “We need to start having honest conversations about this here in Canada and not just point to the United States.”
While a student, Duke was a standout for the Lancer women’s basketball team, receiving the Banner Shield in 1989 as top female athlete of the year. She was inducted into the Alumni Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.
Watch the Chloe Cooley Heritage Minute: