Search for "black history"

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Black History in Canada until 1900

Black people have lived in Canada since the beginnings of transatlantic settlement. Although historically very few arrived directly from their ancestral homeland in Africa, the term "African Canadian" is used to identify all descendants of Africa regardless of their place of birth. “Black Canadian” is also used as a more general term. The earliest arrivals were enslaved people brought from New England or the West Indies. Between 1763 and 1900, most Black migrants to Canada were fleeing enslavement in the US. (See also Black Enslavement in Canada.)

See also Black History in Canada: 1900–1960 and Black History in Canada: 1960 to Present.

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William Pearly Oliver

William Pearly Oliver, CM, minister, army chaplain and community organizer (born 11 February 1912 in Wolfville, Nova Scotia; died 26 May 1989 in Lucasville). Oliver was a social activist, educator and minister. He cofounded the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP) and the Black United Front (BUF). He was also instrumental in the creation of the Black Cultural Society and the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia.

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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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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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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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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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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.)

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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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Leonard Braithwaite

​Leonard Austin Braithwaite, CM, OOnt, QC, lawyer, politician (born 23 October 1923 in Toronto, ON; died 28 March 2012 in Toronto). Braithwaite was the first Black Canadian elected to a provincial legislature. He served as a Liberal member of the Ontario Legislature from 1963 to 1975.

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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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William Taylor (Primary Source)

"The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest naval battle in the history of the world, and we did our job"

See below for Mr. Taylor'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

Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry

Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry, military engineer (born 3 October 1682 in Toulon, France; died 23 March 1756 in Quebec City, QC). Chaussegros de Léry contributed to the development of New France by fortifying the colony’s towns, namely Quebec and Montreal. His relief maps of Quebec and Montreal are still regarded as accurate models of these cities. Some consider Chaussegros de Léry the father of the first truly Canadian architecture. (See also Architectural History: The French Colonial Regime.)

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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.