To honour the heroic March on Washington by Martin Luther King and the bravery of Viola Davis to challenge the culture of segregation in Nova Scotia, Canadians and Americans alike celebrate February as Black History Month.
For centuries, Black Canadians have made important contributions to Canadian society. Since the early 20th century, many Black Canadians have also valiantly served in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Most notably, Canada’s first and only all-black military battalion, the No. 2 Construction Battalion, was established during the First World War. This battalion supported the front lines by building roads and bridges and defusing land mines.
During the Second World War, despite the Royal Canadian Air Force having a restricted enlistment policy for a number of years, 13 Black airmen and officers served in the RCAF.
Another hero from the pages of Canadian military history is William Hall, the first Black, first Nova Scotian and first Canadian Naval recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award of military valour.
In honour of Black History Month, Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan issued the following statement. “Every February, during Black History Month, Canadians celebrate and reflect upon the remarkable contributions that Canadians of African and Caribbean descent have made to our nation.
I am particularly proud to recognize the achievements and sacrifices of Black Canadians who have served and continue to serve in Canada’s military.
This tradition of military service goes back over 200 years.
I urge all Canadians to reflect on the bravery and courage of heroes from our past, like the members of No. 2 Construction Battalion, an all-Black unit created in 1916 during the First World War. The battalion built trenches, roads, and railways, allowing troops to move forward in Europe.
Today, Black Canadians serve in all occupations, at every level, and stand alongside fellow members in operations and missions.
Together, we celebrate the heritage of Black Canadians and honour the integral role they have played in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Diversity is Canada’s greatest strength and we must always continue to build a country that embraces equality and opportunity for all.
I invite you to join me in thanking Black Canadians who have served our country and continue to serve in the CAF today, and have helped make our country proud, open, and accepting.”
The CAF’s Commander Military Personnel Command, LGen. Charles Lamarre, also issued an internal statement to celebrate the contributions Black Canadians have made to the CAF.
“Our celebration of Black History Month is also a reminder of what makes our organization so special: our diversity. Diversity of our members is a force enabler that allows us to fully contribute to the execution of CAF missions. Because we embrace this diversity, our members in the CAF should be a reflection and representative of the general Canadian population. As such, the goal of the CAF, as well as my personal goal, is to foster an open, respectful, and inclusive environment to draw the diverse members of our Canadian population,” said Lamarre.