A piece of music inspired by the No. 2 Construction Battalion was performed in public for the first time at a Pan-African flag raising ceremony at the CFB Halifax on Friday.
The piece was composed by Petty Officer 2nd Class Nevawn Patrick, a longtime member of Maritime Forces Atlantic's Stadacona Band.
He was inspired to write the song after driving home from Pictou, N.S., where the No. 2 Construction Battalion was based.
During the First World War, many Black men were rejected from enlisting because of their skin colour, so Canada allowed them to form the No. 2 Construction Battalion in 1916. It was Canada's first and only segregated military unit.
"If we don't tell the story at all, nothing will happen," he said.
"So as many times as we can get that story out there ... I think the more knowledge people have, the better it'll be in the long run."
He finished in February 2021, just as Nova Scotia was going into lockdown to combat the third wave of COVID-19, and it wasn't performed for the public until now.
Patrick said he's experienced discrimination many times in his military career and he thinks the song is a "positive step in the right the direction." He dedicates it to all past, present and future Black members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
The flag was raised in recognition of Emancipation Day and will fly until Aug. 1.
The House of Commons voted unanimously earlier this year to designate Aug. 1 as Emancipation Day across Canada and less than a month later, Nova Scotia followed suit.
"It's amazing that the base has acknowledged Emancipation Day to begin with," Patrick said. "I think this is the only base in the country that's participating in this event. It feels absolutely phenomenal that my music has been chosen."
The composer said he drew influence from spirituals, songs created by African-American slaves to both lament the horrors of life as a slave and speak to personal and religious values that offer hope.
Capt. Sean Williams called the song "incredible" and "really beautiful."
"I think it's amazing that we have people within our team here that can create original pieces like that that commemorate the community," Williams said.
Patrick said the song will be a part of a ceremony when the federal government makes a formal apology to the families of members of the No. 2 Construction Battallion next year.
But Patrick, who has played trombone in the Stadacona Band since 2004, said he likely won't be able to attend. He's being transferred to Winnipeg in October.
"My music should be a part of that formal apology, but unfortunately I may not be here to be a part of that," he said.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
MORE TOP STORIES