Tribute for Black veterans held on Remembrance Day

Dufferin County Canadian Black Association (DCCBA) paid tribute to Black Canadian veterans with a special Remembrance Day (Nov. 11) ceremony.

Community leaders, dignitaries, and residents gathered at Fiddle Park on Saturday (Nov. 12) evening for a small ceremony remembering and honouring Black Canadians who have served our country.

“We want to take a moment to honour the brave black veterans who served in both World Wars, the Afghanistan War and the many peacekeeping missions across the globe, and those who continue to serve our great nation,” said Alethia O’Hara Stephenson, founder of DCCBA. “We honour the many soldiers who are often excluded or missed from history books.”

The ceremony included prayers and poems in remembrance of the veterans and in honour of those still serving. The names of veterans that have been recaptured through historical research were read out by O’Hara Stephenson, Deputy Mayor Steve Anderson, and two local youths.

Much of the ceremony’s focus was on the No. 2 Construction Battalion, also known as the Black Battalion, a non-combatant battalion formed in 1916.

During the First World War, hundreds of Black men in Canada were turned away when they volunteered to fight overseas in what was considered a white man’s war.

Following two years of protests, the Canadian military approved the formation of a segregated labour battalion in 1916, in response to an urgent need for military labour units. The No. 2 Construction Battalion members helped to construct and maintain roads, bridges, and railways to ensure needed lumber was transported to the Front.

The No. 2 Construction Battalion is the first and only all-Black battalion-sized formation in Canadian history. In July, the Canadian government gave an official apology to the descendant of the battalion’s 600 members, 106 years after the unit formed.

“We know, unfortunately, that there are a number of our veterans who have been forgotten. Who also made the ultimate sacrifice, who also laid down their lives, and yet, for whatever reason, their stories have been untold,” said Deputy Mayor Steve Anderson.

Captain Kevin Junor, an officer in the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, who has served in the Canadian Forces for over 35 years, spoke about his journey into the military.

“When I joined the military, I didn’t hear about people that looked like me and I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me at senior ranks. Not seeing those individuals, I initially limited myself as to what was possible,” said Junor. “But, one day my sergeant major spoke to me and said I have the ability to go very high – I didn’t know how high that was, but I think he was seeing what I couldn’t at the time.”

Cpt. Junor also spoke about the importance of honouring the No. 2 Construction Battalion.

“They fought for the right to be able to go on foreign soil to potentially spill their blood. When they accepted them, they didn’t give them rifles like everyone else, but they gave them picks, axes, and shovels,” said Junor. “They took whatever was given to them and they were proud. These men did the best of their ability and came back home to no fanfare.”

At the end of the ceremony, a wreath was laid at the No. 2 Battalion plaque, located at the Community Garden in Fiddle Park.

Paula Brown, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shelburne Free Press