Inspired to join the military after watching soldiers patrol the streets in his native Jamaica, Kevin Brown is a proud member of the Canadian Armed Forces.
“I just felt that I wanted to be like one of those guys,” said Brown, who is a Sergeant based at Camp Borden. “They were well-respected in the community and they had a lot of authority.”
Just months after graduating from Norman Manley Comprehensive High School in Kingston, Brown migrated to Canada 16 years ago and enlisted in the Army in 2000. The Barrie resident, who spent seven months in Afghanistan in 2005, attended a Remembrance Day event last weekend co-hosted by Ryerson University and Senator Don Meredith to pay tribute to Black veterans who fought for Canada.
“I just wanted to be here to pay my respects to those who went before me and gave their lives for the freedom and privileges we now enjoy in this country,” said Brown. “They made the ultimate sacrifice.”
This is the second year the Remembrance Day event took place at Ryerson University to honour Black soldiers who played a significant role in shaping Canada’s history.
“Today, people across the country join the military for a number of reasons, including sense of duty, patriotism and the opportunity to secure a quality education,” said Meredith. “Blacks that took up arms in 1812 fought for a different reason and that is the basic freedoms we enjoy today.”
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. The monument near Parliament Hill, which was dedicated in November 2006 by Canada’s first Black Governor-General, Michaëlle Jean, 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.
“The project is moving forward,” said Meredith. “In recent months, my office has hosted several meetings with public servants, members of the community and our government as well as the National Capital Commission who are committed to the project.”
Meredith, who was born in Jamaica, said the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 is an opportunity to continue to educate Canadians about the contributions of Black veterans and other African-Canadians who have impacted this country.
“While progress has been made in recognition of Black history in Canada, the contributions of Black Canadians have not found its place in our history books or our curriculum,” he said. “As a result, they have not captured the imagination of our children. I believe we can’t stop until Black history is taught to all Canadians in all of our schools. While I have made it my personal duty to ensure that their contributions are not forgotten, it’s not only incumbent on me as a Senator to share this history. It’s up to us to ensure that our children and all Canadians know that our heritage includes the blood, sweat and tears of brave men and women who fought so that we could be free. It’s our responsibility not to allow this sacrifice to go in vain. It is time to show our appreciation to those who have gone on before us to secure our freedom.”
Ontario Black History Society President, Rosemary Sadlier, shared the military contributions of the Carty family from St. John’s New Brunswick with the audience that included Ontario’s Minister of Consumer Affairs, Margarett Best, Members of Parliament, Corneliu Chisu and Chungsen Leung, and Ryerson’s president, Dr. Sheldon Levy.
Albert Carty fought in the First World War as a member of the No. 2 Construction Battalion – the only all-Black expeditionary force in Canada’s military history – while five of his sons, including Don Carty, who passed away last August, served in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) during the Second World War.
“At a time when recruiting regulations restricted the ability of Blacks to serve in the RCAF, all five overcame the odds and became airmen,” said Sadlier. “Military service was in the Carty family blood.”
Justice of the Peace, Sam Billich, who served in Canada, England, Northern Ireland and Germany, recounted the historic military accomplishments of William Hall and Jamaican-born Herbert Bell, George Rose and Mary Seacole.
Hall was the first Canadian sailor and just the third soldier in this country to receive the Victoria Cross – Canada’s highest military decoration – for bravery during combat while Bell – the father of former councillor, Bev Salmon, who attended the event – enlisted in the West Indies Regiment before he was 18. When his parents found out, he was de-enlisted and sent to Boston to study engineering. However, Bell wanted to serve in the military and he came to Canada and joined the First Depot Battalion New Brunswick regiment in 1917.
Bell was later transferred to the 260th Battalion in Siberia during the First World War, where he was wounded and sent back to a Halifax hospital to recuperate. Leaving the Army as a decorated war hero, he ran a business in Toronto for 25 years before passing away in 1953.
Born in Spanish Town, Rose was recruited by the British Army in 1809 and served in Europe and various Mediterranean Islands. As a Sergeant, he was the highest ranking Black officer in the military at the time which was a unique accomplishment.
A nurse by profession, Seacole distinguished herself during the Crimean War by treating battlefield wounded.
The history of Blacks in Canada’s military is long, rich and significant. Blacks fought for Britain in the War of 1812 against the United States, stood firm against the Rebellions of 1837 in Upper and Lower Canada and the Fenian raids in 1866 and alongside other Canadians and this country’s allies in Europe in both world wars and the Korean War.
Captain William White, the first Black to graduate from Acadia University, spearheaded the No. 2 Construction battalion’s formation and became its chaplain and the first Black in the British Empire to hold a commissioned rank. He kept a diary during his military service that became the subject of a film, Honour Before Glory, which was produced by his great-nephew, Anthony Sherwood.
After holding off the Germans at Vimy Ridge, an injured Private Jeremiah Jones took the surviving prisoners to the Allied lines and handed them over to his commanding officer. In February 2010, he was posthumously recognized for his bravery with the Canadian Forces Medallion for Distinguished Service 60 years after his death.
Corporal Marlene Clyke was one of the first Black women to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces; seaman Raymond Lawrence – who served from 1953-1986 – was the first Black chief petty officer and the first Black naval officer to receive the Order of Military Merit and chief warrant officer Cyril Clayton was the first Black to be appointed Regimental Sergeant Major of a Canadian base.