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Ottawa commits to honouring all-Black battalion that served during First World War


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

Defence Minister Bill Blair issued a statement saying the money will be spent over five years on commemorative activities, educational materials and community war memorials.

Blair's announcement follows Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's formal apology to the descendants of battalion members in July 2022.

Trudeau said the 600 members of the battalion faced systemic anti-Black racism before, during and long after the war.

Today's announcement was held at the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia in Cherry Brook, N.S.

The Department of National Defence has said it is taking steps to change the culture in the military, including the eradication of systemic racism and discrimination.

"The contributions of No. 2 Construction Battalion members to the First World War effort were invaluable," Blair said in his statement.

"Acknowledging the experiences of these brave men and promoting their legacy is an important step in reconciling past wrongs and promoting diversity and inclusion within the Canadian military."

The No. 2 Construction Battalion is Canada's only all-Black unit to serve during the First World War.

When the First World War started in 1914, hundreds of Black men in Canada were turned away when they volunteered to fight overseas.

After two years of protests, the Canadian military was granted approval in 1916 to establish a segregated, non-combat battalion that would be tasked with building roads and railways and conducting forestry operations as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Established July 5, 1916, in Pictou, N.S., the battalion was the last segregated unit in the Canadian military.

Recruitment took place across the country. More than 300 of those who enlisted were from Nova Scotia. Others joined from New Brunswick, Ontario, Western Canada and the United States.

The unit was disbanded on Sept. 15, 1920 without ceremony or recognition for its members' service.

"This funding is a concrete example of the government of Canada's commitment to taking meaningful action to encourage diversity and inclusion and combat racism in our workplaces and society," the military said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2023. Top Stories

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