Descendants of Canada’s first Black military unit part of historical display unveiling

Click to play video: 'No. 2 Construction Battalion history display unveiled in N.S.'
No. 2 Construction Battalion history display unveiled in N.S.
WATCH: The unveiling of an interpretive display showcasing the No. 2 Construction Battalion's history and contribution to Canada took place at the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia. The event marks another milestone along the path to the upcoming national apology to Battalion descendants this weekend. Alexa MacLean has the details. – Jul 7, 2022

Nearly 106 years to the day since Black soldiers across Canada fought racism to serve in World War I, an interpretive display honouring their legacy was unveiled at the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia in Cherry Brook.

“It’s a remarkable sense of pride and honour for these brave men that made the ultimate sacrifice to serve their country at a time when they weren’t wanted,” said Russell Grosse, executive director of the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia, on Thursday.

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

The display details the legacy of the No. 2 Construction Battalion and how it was formed following an uprising of pressure from Black community leaders on military officials.

The interpretive display includes biographies of soldiers who served in the No. 2 Construction Battalion. Alexa MacLean / Global Halifax

The military was petitioned to overturn the widespread rejection of Black volunteers who wanted to enlist but were turned away because of racist policies.

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“They were not just fighting for our country from the perspective of the war but also for equality, for inclusion in all aspects of society for our people of African descent,” said Dwayne Provo, associate deputy minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs.

READ MORE: Celebrating new connections to historic Nova Scotia army unit

Military officials couldn’t deny the overwhelming response from Black community members to overturn their racist actions, which eventually led to the creation of a labour battalion called, the No. 2 Construction Battalion.

“Their work was essential to the frontlines. They supported lumber work, forestry, railway building, water plants. In today’s forces, they would be considered engineers,” Grosse said.

The display unveiling comes during a week of commemorative events leading up to a national apology from the federal government to battalion descendants and their families.

“I’m always looking to see if I can see my father in there because I remember one time he pointed out where he would be standing in the photo with his brother,” said Marjorie Wesley, whose father severed in the battalion.

Wesley attended the display unveiling along with other descendants of the largest Black unit in Canadian history.

There were members of the battalion’s descendants at the unveiling, including Marjorie Wesley, age 90, whose father Elmer Cromwell served in the unit. Alexa MacLean / Global Halifax

“In Canada, there were barriers, these things did happen,” said Twila Grosse, a board member with the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia.

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“We need to honour and recognize the contribution that these individuals made. Long overdue but nonetheless it’s happening.”


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