Group photo from 1916, soldiers standing and sitting in uniform, one man has a drum

Members of No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canada’s first and only Black Battalion, are seen in a photo from November 1916. (Photo: DND)

Federal Government planning apology to No. 2 Construction Battalion


Posted on Thursday April 8, 2021

OTTAWA - At a virtual event March 28, the Government of Canada confirmed its intent to apologize for the treatment that members of No. 2 Construction Battalion endured before, during, and after their service to Canada during the First World War.

The event was hosted by Sean Fraser, Member of Parliament for Central Nova. Harjit Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, addressed the need to make a meaningful and respectful apology for the racism and discrimination experienced by members of Canada’s only Black military unit.

“Today, more than one hundred years after the No. 2 Construction Battalion was disbanded, we are ever grateful for their bravery and resilience in the face of hate and adversity,” said the Defence Minister. “But more than our gratitude, we owe these members, their families, and their community an apology for the racism and discrimination they endured in their service to our country.”

At the outset of the First World War, many of the members of the No. 2 Construction Battalion had tried to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force, but were turned away because of the colour of their skin.
Despite this, they persevered in their pursuit to serve their country.

When the segregated, non-combatant battalion was formed in 1916, more than 600 joined and deployed overseas and to France.

There, they helped to construct and maintain roads, bridges, and railways to ensure that desperately needed lumber was transported to the Front.

An apology and commemoration event is expected to take place following meaningful consultation with community members and descendants.

“The No. 2 Construction Battalion is an integral part of the History of African Nova Scotians in Pictou County,” noted Fraser. “The Battalion fought not only for their country, but also for their right to do so. Their sacrifices and accomplishments for Canada during the First World War will never be forgotten.”

The No. 2 Construction Battalion was formed in Pictou, Nova Scotia, on July 5, 1916. Recruitment took place across the country; most were from Nova Scotia, with others coming from New Brunswick, Ontario, the West, and the United States.

The battalion’s chaplain was Reverend William White, who had also played a leading role in forming the unit. He was given the rank of Honorary Captain, one of the few Black commissioned officers to serve in Canada’s First World War army.

After the end of the First World War in November 1918, the men of No. 2 Construction Battalion sailed to Halifax in early 1919 to return to civilian life. The unit was officially disbanded in 1920.

“The story of the No. 2 Construction Battalion will resonate with many Black Canadians today, who day after day put their lives on the front lines to stand for their country, yet rarely if ever get the recognition that they so deserve,” said Greg Fergus, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. He also holds the titles of Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Digital Government, Chair of the Parliamentary Black Caucus, and Member of Parliament for Hull-Aylmer. “We can’t change the past, and the wrongdoings of previous generations, but can certainly choose the future that we want to live in.”