February is Black History Month: $2.25 million to honour all Black battalion that served during First World War


Robin MacLennan

Ontario Construction Report staff writer

The federal government has announced $2.25 million to honour the legacy of No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canada’s only all-Black unit to serve during the First World War.

Funding will be used for commemorative events and activities over five years.

No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, also known as the Black Battalion, was created on July 5, 1916, during the First World War. It was a segregated non-combatant unit, the first and only all-Black battalion-sized formation in Canadian military history.

On the 107th anniversary of the battalion’s creation, a flag was unveiled and proudly raised during a ceremony at the Gagetown 5th Canadian Division Support Base just outside of Oromocto, N.B.

“This was a journey I never thought was possible,” Captain Kevin Junor said at the first flag-raising. “There aren’t too many occasions where you get to see a flag raised for the first time.”

National Defence Minister Bill Blair spoke about No. 2 Construction Battalioin in his recognition of Black History Month at the beginning of February.

“We are committed to ensuring that more Canadians learn about No. 2 Construction Battalion, and the many contributions made by Black Canadians,” Blair said. ”For this reason, in November we committed $2.25 million of dedicated funding to enable us to commemorate No. 2 Construction Battalion.”

“The dedicated funding will honour the members of No. 2 Construction Battalion who made invaluable contributions during the First World War but endured racism, discrimination, and prejudice in many forms.”

Funds will celebrate the legacy of Black military members for years to come through commemorative activities, educational materials, and community war memorials.

No. 2 Construction Battalion was authorized on July 5, 1916 under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Sutherland, a well-known railroad contractor from River John, Nova Scotia.

Recruiting began in the Maritimes on 19 July and in Quebec and points west on 30 August. The battalion was one of only a few units that was allowed to recruit across the country.

Throughout the war, members of No. 2 Construction Battalion faced racism. They showed resilience, determination, and strength in the face of adversity. Following the end of the First World War, the unit was officially disbanded on September 15, 1920, without ceremony or recognition for their service or sacrifices on behalf of Canada.

“5th Canadian Division’s 4 Engineer Support Regiment is proud to be the historical link for No. 2 Construction Battalion and the custodian of its legacy,” said Brigadier-General Stéphane Masson, Commander 5th Canadian Division. “While we acknowledge our past, we move forward celebrating their accomplishments and will perpetuate the legacy of this storied battalion and their desire to serve Canada.”


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