When Canada went to war in 1914, black Canadians stepped up to join the fight but were usually turned away due to racial prejudice. That changed in 1916 when, facing a manpower shortage, the government finally allowed black Canadians to enlist. The result was the No. 2 Construction Battalion, a predominantly black unit that paved the way for Canadians of all races to serve their country in conflict.
The courage and determination of the battalion is immortalized in a new stamp from Canada Post, unveiled February 3rd in honour of Black History Month.
The stamp features an archival photograph of some of the unit's members against a backdrop of tall conifers. The No. 2 Construction Battalion felled trees in a mountainous region of France and milled lumber that was used to reinforce trenches and repair railways and roads that supplied the front.
Working days were long, conditions were harsh and the unit's members still endured segregation overseas. All of the battalion's commanding officers were white, save one: the Reverend William White, a descendent of slaves from Virginia and a distinguished graduate of Acadia University who vocally opposed segregation in Nova Scotia. As the unit's chaplain, White was given the rank of Honorary Captain, becoming one of the Army's few Black officers.
"The Battalion's creation is a story of persistence in the face of adversity," said Judy Foote, Minister of Public Services and Procurements, responsible for Canada Post Corporation.
Deepak Chopra, President and CEO of Canada Post, added, "[The Battalion's] determination to serve and their contribution to the war effort were an important step on the journey to racial equality in this country."
The stamp is available in booklets of 10 and available in the Canada Post shop.