Canada Post unveiled a limited edition stamp in Cherrybrook, N.S. on Tuesday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of black men who formed a segregated unit and fought during the First World War.
The company said the stamp is a chance to honour the contributions of black Canadians.
“This stamp honours men who stepped forward to serve this country in uniform but were denied the opportunity to fight,” said Jim Dunsworth, director of operations for Canada Post.
In 1914, black Nova Scotians who were willing and able to serve for Canada in the First World War were told it was a white man’s war and largely turned away. Despite that, two years later, 600 black men — many from Nova Scotia — formed a segregated unit known as the No. 2 Construction Battalion.
“Despite the entrenched racism and prejudice that they endured, before and throughout their service as members of the Canadian expeditionary force, they never the less loyalty served King and country,” said Hon. J.J. Grant, the lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia.
The unit helped to ship lumber, dig trenches and build railroads. The majority of the men from the No. 2 Battalion actually came from Nova Scotia, but the history of their service is largely unknown.
“The black community knows about it. It’s our story now to try and tell the rest of Canada about it,” said Captain (Ret’d) George Borden, whose grandfather served in the battalion.
For the descendants of Canada’s first and only all-black unit, it was an opportunity to pay tribute to their ancestors and honour the legacy of their commitment to the country.
“Most of us here have at least one grandparent or great-grandparent or uncle or somebody that served in the No. 2, and that’s all across Nova Scotia because we provided the greatest bulk of the numbers,” said Border. “We provided 300 and the unit was only 600 large, so half of them were Nova Scotians.”
Craig Smith, president of the Black Cultural Society of Nova Scotia, said they were “honouring men who fought to make Canada great.”
In an effort to continue the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the No. 2 Construction Battalion, the Black Cultural Society of Nova Scotia is hosting a number of events throughout the year.