Black Canadians in Uniform -
A Proud Tradition
First World War
Photo: LAC PA—003201
No. 2 Construction Battalion members in 1917.
Photo: Maritime Command Museum.
The segregated battalion was tasked with non-combat support roles. After initial service in Canada, the battalion boarded the SS Southland bound for Liverpool, England in March 1917. Its members were sent to eastern France later in 1917 where they served honourably with the Canadian Forestry Corps. There they helped provide the lumber required to maintain trenches on the front lines, as well as helped construct roads and railways. After the end of the First World War in November 1918, the men sailed to Halifax in early 1919 to return to civilian life and the unit was officially disbanded in 1920.
In addition to the men of the Black Battalion, an estimated 2,000 Black Canadians, such as James Grant, Roy Fells, Seymour Tyler, Jeremiah Jones and Curly Christian, were determined to get to the front lines and managed to join regular units, going on to give distinguished service that earned some of them medals for bravery.
Black Canadians also made important contributions on the home front. They helped achieve victory by working in factories making the weapons and supplies needed by the soldiers fighting overseas, and by taking part in patriotic activities like raising funds for the war effort.
Today, the dedicated service of the "Black Battalion" and other Black Canadians who fought in the First World War is remembered and celebrated as a cornerstone of the proud tradition of Black military service in our country.