By TOM GODFREY
A national monument to remember our fallen Black soldiers is on the radar as plans are drawn to honour two Canadian soldiers who were recently taken away from us.
Our community has to continue pushing for a monument in Ottawa to honour our veterans. A bust also has to be erected to celebrate our first Victoria Cross recipient, William Edward Hall.
On Remembrance Day our country mourned the senseless deaths of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, who was killed while guarding the National War Memorial; and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, who was run down by a coward in Quebec.
Mayor-elect, John Tory, has vowed to work with Senator Don Meredith to make the monument a reality.
Meredith has been working tirelessly for almost a year towards the creation of a monument near the War Memorial, to recognize the hundreds of brave Black soldiers who gave their lives for this country.
Our young people are longing for heroes. In addition to Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr., they also have to learn about Black Canadians like Hall and his exploits.
Hall, of Horton, Nova Scotia, lived from 1827 to 1904, and was the son of escaped slaves from the U.S. He was the first Black person, and third Canadian, to receive the Victoria Cross for his actions in the Siege of Lucknow, during the Indian Rebellion.
Hall and an officer from his ship “continued to load and fire a 24-pounder gun at the walls after the rest of the party had been killed or injured by the defenders”, records show.
The role played by Blacks in Canada on the battlefield is obscured and not readily available to most Canadians. It takes a lot of research by dedicated people like Rosemary Sadlier, of the Ontario Black History Society, to bring some of our heroes to life.
Generally, information on Black military men is not always included in school history curriculums and lacks official public recognition.
“This is a great disservice to Black soldiers who fought and died to secure our freedom,” said Meredith at the Fourth Annual Remembrance Ceremony Honouring Canada’s Black Veterans last week at Ryerson University.
“The outstanding contributions and sacrifices of Black Canadians have been largely unsung,” he said. “Despite social disadvantage, they answered the call and delivered exceptionally for Canada with courage and conviction.’’
He noted that the late Lincoln Alexander, a former member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, will soon have a national day named in honour of his birthday on January 21.
Senator Anne Cools, the first Black female senator, thanked the soldiers for putting their lives on the line every day.
“Black people may have been invisible to many but their actions were visible to many,” she told a packed room. “These men gave their lives for God, King and the country.”
Tory, in a short speech, pledged support for a monument to Black soldiers.
“Today we recognize the contributions of many generations of African Canadians,” he said. “People should celebrate this history every single day.”
Young soldiers at the ceremony were clearly touched by the recent killings of their colleagues in Ottawa and Quebec.
Keisha Johnson, of the Royal Canadian Military Academy Pathfinders of Canada, said she is always careful and never takes anything for granted.
“The recent attacks of Armed Forces personnel remind us of what can happen to soldiers,” she said. “We appreciate and honour those who died for the blood, sweat and tears that they have shed for us.”
Chief Warrant Officer Ray Joseph, of the 48th Highlanders of Canada, said the recent attacks on soldiers will make all soldiers stronger.
“An attack on one soldier will make all other soldiers stronger,” he said. “These men made the ultimate sacrifice.”
The tribute featured a reading of Flanders Field and performances by bagpipers, Crawford Academy Band and Louise Holloway.
Ryerson president Dr. Sheldon Levy, like others, was so impressed with the young Crawford Academy Band that he made a donation to help them with gear.
The event also reminded us that we are in good hands as we pass the torch on to our young people.
Lest we forget.