One of the five Canadian arctic offshore patrol vessels that will be built in Halifax will bear the name of the first Black Canadian to receive the Victoria Cross for bravery during combat.
Nova Scotia-born William Hall, who was also the first Canadian sailor and just the third soldier in this country to be awarded the highest military decoration, was presented with the Victoria Cross by the British Royal Navy on October 28, 1859 after he valiantly defended a British garrison in Lucknow, India.
Speaking at last Saturday night’s Harry Jerome Awards at the Metro Convention Centre, federal national defence minister Jason Kenney announced that the naval vessel will be named “Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) William Hall VC”.
This is the first naval vessel that will be named after a Black Canadian.
“I think this is such a beautiful way of honouring a true trailblazer and war hero,” said Kenney, who is also the Minister for Multiculturalism. “Hopefully, it will elevate him as an example to all Canadians about how Black history is Canada’s history. He’s a Black Canadian war hero and role model.”
Born in 1825 to American parents liberated from the American 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 on board 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. He 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.
Five years ago, Canada Post recognized Hall with a commemorative stamp.
Earlier this year, the federal government and Irving Shipbuilding signed a contract to build the Arctic offshore patrol ships.
Irving Shipbuilding said employment for the project will reach 1,000 during the peak of construction.
The majority of the estimated $3.5 billion budget will go to building the patrol vessels which will cost $2.3 billion. The remaining $1.2 billion will be spent on infrastructure, including new jetties, contingency funds, ammunition, spare parts and training.
The first vessel is expected to be commissioned in 2018.