Browse "Black Canadians"

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Black Canadians and Conscription in the First World War

In 1917, the Canadian government passed the Military Service Act, which made all male citizens (aged 20 to 45) subject to conscription. As the First World War (1914–18) dragged on, the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) desperately needed reinforcements, as the number of volunteers had nearly dried up. Earlier in the war, Black volunteers had faced resistance and opposition in their efforts to enlist. However, Black Canadians were not exempt from conscription and at least 350 were drafted into the CEF. Those who served overseas worked primarily with the Canadian Forestry Corps, although some also served on the frontlines.

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Black Volunteers in the Canadian Expeditionary Force

During the First World War, up to 1,300 Black men volunteered for service in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). While the men of No. 2 Construction Battalion are the best-known example of Black participation in the war, another 300 to 500 enlisted in other units of the CEF. Of these, about 100 served on the front lines. Black soldiers participated in all major battles of the CEF, from its arrival in France until the Armistice. (See also Black Canadians and Conscription in the First World War.)

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Charles Lightfoot Roman

Charles Lightfoot Roman, MD, CM, surgeon, author, researcher, lecturer (born 19 May 1889 in Port Elgin, ON; died 8 June 1961 in Valleyfield, QC). Charles Lightfoot Roman was one of the first Black Canadians to graduate from McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine and became a recognized expert in industrial medicine. He was also one of the first Black Canadians to enlist for service in the First World War and was the only known Black person to serve with the Canadian General Hospital No. 3 (McGill). Lightfoot Roman was also likely the first Black Grand Master of a traditional Masonic lodge.

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Everett Sylvester Cromwell (Primary Source)

"One time I drove for 36 hours without stopping. When I stopped it was just long enough to off-load and load. That was war. That’s what you trained for."

See below for Mr. Cromwell's entire testimony.

Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.

Article

George Morton and the Fight to Fight: Black Volunteers in the First World War

Archivist Barbara M. Wilson explores the significance of a letter sent to Sir Sam Hughes by George Morton, a letter carrier, barber and civil rights advocate from Hamilton, Ontario. In his letter, dated 7 September 1915, Morton asked the minister of militia and defence why members of the Black community were being turned away when trying to enlist for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War. (See also Black Volunteers in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.)

Article

Jeremiah Jones

Jeremiah “Jerry” Alvin Jones, soldier, farmer, truck driver (born 30 March 1858 in East Mountain, NS; died 23 November 1950 in Halifax, NS). Jeremiah Jones was a Black Canadian soldier who served during the First World War. Jones was 58 years old (13 years above the age limit) when he enlisted with the 106th Battalion in 1916. For his heroic actions during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, he was awarded the Canadian Forces Medallion for Distinguished Service in 2010 — 60 years after his death.

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Leonard Braithwaite (Primary Source)

Leonard Braithwaite served with the Canadian Air Force as a Safety Equipment Operator from 1943 to 1946. However, he was rejected multiple times at a Toronto recruiting station because he was Black. Read and listen to the story of how Braithwaite overcame adversity and served overseas.

Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.

Article

No. 2 Construction Battalion

On 5 July 1916, the Department of Defence and Militia authorized the formation of No. 2 Construction Battalion. It was the largest Black unit in Canadian history. Its members continued the proud tradition of service to king and country that went back to the American Revolution and continued through the War of 1812 and the Rebellions of 1837–38 to the start of the First World War. But there were many obstacles: Black soldiers and communities faced racism both at home and overseas, despite their commitment to the war effort.

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Percy "Junior" Jackson (Primary Source)

Percy “Junior” Jackson enlisted with The North Nova Scotia Highlanders during the Second World War. He served with the Canadian Army from 1944 to 1977. Listen to Jackson’s mission overseas to reunite with his older brother.

Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.

Article

Randolph George Hope (Primary Source)

"If he was black or French or whatever, and you reach down to help him out of the water, you don’t say to him, oh, I’m not going to get him up, he’s not one of us. No."

See below for Mr. Hope's entire testimony.

Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.

Article

Roy Trevor Gilbert Heron (Primary Source)

"I made it a point to be very active and help in the children of both in Holland and in Germany, because kids had nothing to do with the war and they need help and kids were my prime factor in helping."

See below for Mr. Heron's entire testimony.


Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.

Article

Stanley G. Grizzle

Stanley George Sinclair Grizzle, CM, OOnt, citizenship judge, politician, civil servant, labour union activist (born 18 November 1918 in Toronto, ON; died 12 November 2016 in Toronto, ON). Stanley Grizzle had an illustrious career as a railway porter, soldier, civil servant, citizenship judge and activist for the rights of Black Canadians.

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Victoria Rifles of Halifax

The Victoria Rifles of Halifax was a Black volunteer militia unit of about 70 men in Nova Scotia in the 1860s. The unit participated in anniversary celebrations of the founding of Halifax and in a parade honouring the Prince of Wales, who visited Nova Scotia in 1860. Despite their dedication and skill — and the support of some white Haligonians — the “Victorias” were subjected to anti-Black racism both within and outside the militia. The unit disbanded after approximately four years.