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100 Years Later, Government Of Canada Makes Apology To Black Soldiers

The No. 2 Construction Battalion finally gets the recognition they deserve

On Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the Minister of National Defence, Anita Anand, delivered an apology on behalf of the Government of Canada for the systematic anti-Black racism that members of No. 2 Construction Battalion endured before, during, and long after the First World War. 

No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.) was created on July 5, 1916, in Pictou, Nova Scotia, during the First World War. Recruitment took place nationwide, with more than 600 men initially accepted. The No. 2 Construction Battalion was a segregated black unit with predominantly white leadership that was tasked with cutting the lumber used in the trenches, railways, and aircraft. 

The men of the No. 2 Construction Battalion were denied from serving on the front-line units due to the colour of their skin. Since many Black service members were not permitted to fight alongside their white compatriots, the No. 2 Construction Battalion was the first and only all-black battalion-sized formation in Canadian military history. It wasn’t until Black communities across Canada pressured the government and military officials that this was formed. 

On June 1, 2022, No. 2 Construction Battalion was awarded the ‘France and Flanders, 1917-18’ Battle Honour, a distinguished military honour recognizing and paying tribute to their brave service in the Great War. On the same day, the Branch of Canadian Military Engineers announced the perpetuation of the Battalion, and the 4 Engineer Support Regiment (4 E.S.R.) located at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, New Brunswick, publicly recognized the Battalion, ensuring it takes its rightful place in Canada’s proud military history so that its members be remembered and honoured for generations to come. 

“For the blatant anti-Black hate and systemic racism that denied these men dignity in life and in death, we are sorry. Only when the truths of the past are acknowledged can we begin to dress the wounds they created and build a better, more inclusive Canada for all. 

I would like to thank the descendants of No.2 Construction Battalion, members of the National Apology Advisory Committee, and members of Black communities in Nova Scotia and across Canada for their important advocacy which was instrumental in bringing this day forward. 

The story of No. 2 Construction Battalion, and the stories of bravery, honour, and sacrifice of many other trailblazing Canadians, will play an important role in ensuring this horrible treatment never occurs again.” The Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada. 

Volunteering to fight for one’s country is an exceptional act of bravery, honour, sacrifice, and loyalty. During the Prime Minister’s speech, he acknowledged and apologized for the injustices following the First World War when the No.2 Construction Battalion unit was officially disbanded without recognition for their service or sacrifices on behalf of the Government of Canada. 

In preparation for the event, the Canadian Armed Forces worked with a community-led National Apology Advisory Communities (N.A.A.C.) that conducted six cross-Canada community consultations in which 690 descendants of former members of No.2 Construction Battalion participated. The N.A.A.C. proposed eight recommendations to the Government of Canada, which they committed to:

“The brave men of No. 2 Construction Battalion served with pride and valour, despite the harsh adversity they faced. These Black Canadians having a long-standing presence in our country felt the patriotic call at war time, but sadly faced obstacles due to the colour of their skin. Today, we can remember and honour their important legacy, as this is a step toward racial equality in our country.” Russell Grosse, Executive Director, Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia.

Image source Trudeau social media feed