A stamp honouring Canada’s first and only Black battalion was unveiled last Sunday at the Ontario Black History Society’s (OBHS) annual Black History Month launch.
This year marks the 100th anniversary since the No. 2 Construction Battalion was formally authorized as a unit of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
Former OBHS president Rosemary Sadlier represented Canada Post at the sold-out celebration at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Several of her family members from New Brunswick were members of the battalion that served mainly in the Canadian Forestry Corps in the Jura region of France where Haitian Revolution leader Toussaint L’Ouverture was imprisoned in 1802 and died a year later.
“With this stamp, we honour the brave, loyal and determined men who helped shape modern-day Canada,” she said.
Historian and poet laureate Dr. George Elliott Clarke said the unit that returned to Canada in January 1919 deserve the recognition.
“Black men and women at that time realized that if they seemed to be uncaring about Canada’s war effort, it would have been harder for them to demand equality after the war,” he said. “So they realized as much as it might have been termed, and rightly so, a ‘White Man’s War’, it was a war also in which minorities and people of colour in Canada had to feel that they had to be supportive in order to demand concessions from the mainstream.”
Virginia-born William White, who spearheaded the battalion’s formation and became its chaplain, was Clarke’s great great grandfather.
Clarke said that White – an ordained a minister at Wolfville Baptist Church before going on to become the only commissioned officer of colour in the British Expeditionary Forces during the First World War – single-handedly defused a race riot.
“He rode his horse between the two rows of feuding Black and White soldiers at Jura and preached a sermon of reconciliation, brotherhood and unity against the enemy, thus preventing a bloody race riot,” he said.
While overseas, White – the first Black to receive an honorary doctorate from Acadia University shortly before his death in 1936 at age 62 – wrote a war years’ dairy that became the subject of a film, Honour Before Glory, which was produced by his great, great nephew, Anthony Sherwood.
Kevin Junor who, seven years ago, became the first Black officer from the Toronto Scottish Regiment to receive the Order of Military Merit for meritorious service and devotion to the Army, said the battalion should be celebrated because they served Canada proudly.
“Their story was one of Canada’s best kept secrets, but now that’s out of the bag and it’s time to continue to tell their story and applaud their accomplishments,” he said.
The Black Cultural Society & Centre of Nova Scotia (BCSCNS), which for the last 23 years has organized a commemorative celebration on the first weekend in July in Pictou, Nova Scotia where the battalion was stationed prior to going overseas, has planned a series of events this year to coincide with the centenary anniversary.
By RON FANFAIR