Apology to Canada’s first Black battalion to come this summer: minister

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Apology to Canada’s first Black battalion to come this summer: minister
The federal government provided an update today on an apology that's been decades in the making. On July 9th, an official apology for members of the "No. 2 Construction Battalion" is coming, along with a commitment to change the culture of the modern day armed forces. Amber Fryday reports – Mar 28, 2022

Descendants of the No. 2 Construction Battalion  — Canada’s only all-Black unit to serve in the First World War — will receive an apology from the federal government this summer for the racial discrimination their relatives endured.

Ottawa has been in consultations with descendants of the 600 members of the battalion over the last year, federal Defence Minister Anita Anand told a news conference Monday.

“Every one of these heroes deserved appreciation and recognition, but they were often ignored before, during and long after their service,” Anand said, adding that the government is committed to changing the culture of the Canadian Armed Forces and making sure the institution “looks like the population it serves.”

“An entire community and generation were denied their heroes after the Great War and we must, therefore, raise awareness and ensure that Canadians learn their history,” she said.

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Read more: Celebrating new connections to historic Nova Scotia army unit

Hundreds of Black men in Canada were turned away when they volunteered to fight overseas in 1914 because they weren’t wanted in what was considered a white man’s war. Following two years of protests, the Canadian military was granted approval in 1916 to establish the segregated, non-combat battalion.

Recruitment took place across the country. More than 300 of those who enlisted were from Nova Scotia. Others joined from New Brunswick, Ontario, the West and the United States. Only a few of its members would see combat, mainly because the battalion was repeatedly told its help wasn’t wanted on the front lines.

For the most part, the unit supported three major forestry operations in conjunction with the Canadian Forestry Corps. Their duties included felling trees, operating lumber mills and maintaining roads, vehicles and railway equipment. At the mills, they produced railway ties, as well as boards and stakes for use in the trenches.

Anand’s predecessor, former defence minister Harjit Sajjan, announced a year ago that plans were in the works for a formal apology.

Quebec Liberal MP Greg Fergus said Monday at the news conference the apology is long overdue and represents a step toward celebrating the contribution of the battalion in Canadian history.

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The sentiment was echoed by Douglas Ruck of the Black Battalion Historical Marker Society, which has advocated for the formal apology.

“Every step they took in trying to represent this country was met with racism, oppression and disregard,” Ruck told reporters.

“But they persisted, and they continued to try and be part of what was important to them ? despite being dissuaded and told to go back home.”

Anand said the official apology will take place on July 9 in Truro, N.S.

She added that family members who haven’t been a part of the consultation process can go online and sign up to be added to a list of descendants. Families can also donate artifacts or disclose the location of an unmarked grave of a battalion member.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2022.

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