Descendants of Canada's all-Black battalion handing out framed pictures of the group to legions

·3 min read
Amherstburg Freedom Museum vice-president Barbara Porter, centre, presents a framed photo of the No. 2 Construction Battalion to local legion leaders Morris Brause, first vice-president of Branch 594, left, and 594 Branch president Tom Friesen.  (Submitted by Amherstburg Freedom Museum - image credit)
Amherstburg Freedom Museum vice-president Barbara Porter, centre, presents a framed photo of the No. 2 Construction Battalion to local legion leaders Morris Brause, first vice-president of Branch 594, left, and 594 Branch president Tom Friesen. (Submitted by Amherstburg Freedom Museum - image credit)

A museum in southwestern Ontario is giving framed photos of Canada's first and only segregated military unit to legions in an effort to bring awareness to the Black soldiers who served in Canada.

The No. 2 Construction Battalion was created on July 5, 1916, following protests for the right for Black people to join the war effort. The Nova Scotia-based battalion served in the First World War, building roads, clearing trees and maintaining railway tracks among other sometimes dangerous duties.

"Basically, they were a labour company, so they were shearing up ditches, cutting up lumber making stands for the artillery, roads, railroad tracks, things like that," said Barbara Porter, who's related to three battalion members and is vice-president of the Amherstburg Freedom Museum board.

"Right off the bat [the Canadian military] didn't want to accept any Black soldiers at all, they said it was a white man's war ... Eventually with all the casualties going on they did accept black soldiers."

It's estimated about 100 Black soldiers joined the battalion from the Windsor-Essex area.

"They would be called engineers now if they were in the army, right?" said Porter.

CBC News
CBC News

Porter's grandfather, Alfred Augustus Tudor, and her two great-uncles served with the unit. She has made it her mission to find other descendants and piece together the remnants of the history of one of Canada's most significant battalions.

Now, she and colleagues at the museum are presenting local legions with a framed photo of the locals who joined the group, hoping that it will help bring the battalion's history to more people.

Porter said she got the idea after the federal government announced a formal apology would be coming because of the discrimination the group faced while serving their country.

"So at that point, I decided that, I mean nobody really knows about them in this area," she said. "I wanted to educate people before this apology comes in July."

Submitted by Amherstburg Freedom Museum
Submitted by Amherstburg Freedom Museum

One framed photo was presented to Branch 594, which has put the picture up in its hall.

"It's a start," said Porter. "I don't see very many people representing me on the walls at all, so it's a start for the military to get involved and start talking about this history that was lost and make it part of their education."

Lorene Bridgen-Lennie, assistant curator of the Amherstburg Freedom Museum, said a few other legions have expressed interest in hanging the photo and it's currently displayed in the Kingsville Military Museum.

"This is a part of Canadian military history and the legion is an institution that represents that military history," she said.

"So much was sacrificed by these men, and also their ancestors and their descendants — because there is a long history of military service within the Black community so I think it's really important that when someone enters that hall, they see representation."

LISTEN | Hear more from Porter about the battilion and her work educating others about it:

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.

CBC
CBC
Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting