There is likely to be a historic addition to the Valiants Memorial in Ottawa before the end of the year. Senator Don Meredith is at the forefront of a campaign to add a bust of Nova Scotia-born William Hall to the military monument commemorating prominent soldiers in Canada’s military history. He hopes it will be done before the end of the year.
The monument near Parliament Hill, which was dedicated in November 2006 by Michaëlle Jean, Canada’s first Black Governor General, is made up of nine busts and five statues.
A report by the House of Commons Veterans Affairs Committee, unanimously supported by members of four political parties, has recommended that the federal government consider erecting a bust of Hall to commemorate the military contributions of African-Canadians.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said the Jamaican-born Meredith, who sits on the Veterans Affairs Committee. “African-Canadians have made major military sacrifices and it’s about time that their efforts are recognized in a very public way.”
Veteran Affairs Official Opposition Critic, Peter Stoffer, has also been advocating for Hall’s bust.
“I have asked repeatedly that a bust be put up in his honour to recognize not just William Hall and the Victoria Cross, but all Black Nova Scotians and Black Canadians who have served in our Armed Forces, but I have been turned down so far,” said Stoffer, the New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament for Sackville-East Shore.
Hall was the first African-Canadian to receive the Victoria Cross by the British Royal Navy on October 28, 1859 after he valiantly defended a British garrison in Lucknow, India.
Born in 1825 to American parents liberated from the U.S. slave trade, Hall built wooden ships for the merchant marine and was a crew member on a trading vessel. He enlisted in the Royal Navy in Liverpool in 1852 and served as a naval brigade member on the HMS Rodney during the Crimean War. The Canadian soldier received British and Turkish medals for his combat service during the three-year war that ended in1856.
A year later, Hall – as Captain of the Foretop of the HMS Shannon – led the successful British Naval guns charge in Lucknow during the Indian mutiny.
Hall retired as Quartermaster in 1876 and moved back to Nova Scotia to live with his sisters on a farm in Avonport overlooking the Minas Basin. He lived and farmed without recognition until 1901 when the Duke of Cornwall and York, who was later to become King George V, noticed Hall and his medals during a British Veterans parade in Nova Scotia.
The highly decorated soldier succumbed at home to paralysis in 1904 at age 75 and was buried without military honours in an unmarked grave.
Hall was reburied on the grounds of the Hantsport Baptist Church in 1945, eight years after a local campaign was launched to have the Canadian Legion recognize his valour. A monument erected near his grave bears an enlarged replica of the Victoria Cross and a plaque describing his courage and devotion to duty.
A Canadian Legion branch in Halifax was renamed after Hall and a Cornwallis gym, the DaCosta-Hall Educational Program for Black students in Montreal and the annual Halifax International Tattoo gun run, perpetuate his name.
In 1967, his medals were returned from England to Canada to be displayed at Expo ’67 in Montreal. They are now preserved in the Nova Scotia Museum.
Two years ago, Hall was honoured with a Canada Post commemorative stamp.
By RON FANFAIR