The Courier

Inscription: 1916-1920, No. 2 Construction C.E.F., First Headquarters Site, CANADA’S FIRST & ONLY BLACK BATTALION,

Photo: Marilyn Gurney; Carmen Goold.


July 5, 2021

The Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, issued the following statement today in recognition of the 105th anniversary of the establishment of the No. 2 Construction Battalion:

“On this day 105 years ago, the No. 2 Construction Battalion was officially authorized as a segregated, non-combat unit of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The story of the Battalion is one of determination in the face of racism and discrimination. It is a story that we must continue to honour and share.

“At the time of the First World War, hundreds of eager Black volunteers were turned away at recruiting centres across the country. Undeterred, they continued to fight, through significant backlash and barriers, for the right to wear a military uniform. And on July 5, 1916, Canada’s first and only Black battalion was formed in Pictou, Nova Scotia.

“The men of the No. 2 Construction Battalion left their families, friends, and communities behind to deploy overseas, where they helped to build and maintain roads and railways, transport lumber, and maintain water and electrical supplies to support the war effort. They performed their duty with professionalism and integrity, despite being denied a place on the front lines. Throughout the war, these brave individuals endured racism, and prejudice in many forms, including segregation, mistreatment and inadequate equipment.

“The unit was disbanded in September 1920. A century later, many Canadians are still learning the history of the No. 2 Construction Battalion, and the hundreds of Black soldiers who challenged the racism and discrimination that was endemic in our society, and our institutions.

“Unfortunately, Canada is not yet a place where all feel included and valued, and some Canadians are still targeted by acts of racism and discrimination. Let us honour the legacy of the No. 2 Construction Battalion as we continue fighting against prejudice in our communities, in our organizations, and across our country. Later this month, on July 10, the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia will lead its annual commemorative event with that intent; the event will be posted on social media, and I encourage Canadians to watch and honour the men of the No. 2 Construction Battalion.

“In March 2021, the Government of Canada confirmed its intent to apologize for the treatment that members of No. 2 Construction Battalion endured before, during, and after their service to Canada during the First World War. An apology and commemoration event will take place following meaningful consultation with community members and descendants.”

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