Some Black soldiers saw action in the War of 1812, helping defend Upper Canada against American attacks. A number of volunteers were organized into the "Company of Coloured Men," which played an important role in the Battle of Queenston Heights. Black soldiers also played an important role in the Upper Canadian Rebellion (1837–1839). In all, approximately 1,000 Black militia men fighting in five companies helped put down the uprising, taking part in some of the most important incidents such as the Battle of Toronto.
Black volunteers also served with British forces farther away from home, including in the Royal Navy. Indeed, one such man, William Hall, would earn the Victoria Cross (the highest award for military valour) for his brave actions in India in 1857.
Black soldiers have played a major role in Canada's military history for over 200 years!
A few Black Canadians were also part of the Canadian Contingent that went overseas during the South African War of 1899–1902.
At the start of the WWI, many young Canadians volunteered to join their country’s armed forces. However, many Asian and Black men were told that they could not enlist. Some battalions during the First World War did not welcome everyone.
Although many Black men had been turned away, they remained eager to show loyalty to their country.
The No. 2 Construction Battalion was formed for Black men to serve as part of the Canadian army. They would not be in a combat role. But the men in this unit were proud and excited to help win the war for Canada and the other countries that were fighting on the same side.
It became one of the most important military units in Canadian history.
Over 750 Black men enlisted in No. 2 Construction Battalion. Most of the men were Black men from Nova Scotia and Ontario. Others came from across Canada. Men from the Caribbean who were already in Canada also enlisted. And over 160 men from the United States joined.
When the battalion sailed for England in 1917, there were 595 men.
No. 2 Construction Battalion served in the forests of south-east France. They did not serve at the front, but their work was still very important for the war.
They worked with white Canadian loggers to help with the production of lumber. They helped to cut down trees, take them to the mills and helped run the mills. Then they took the finished products to the railway station. So the mills were able to produce far more wood, and it was in very high demand. It was important for the soldiers in the front lines.
The Black Battalion, more than 700 Black Canadians also managed to join other units. They would offer distinguished service that earned some of them medals for bravery at places like Ypres, Vimy Ridge, Hill 70 and Passchendaele.
The Second World War saw considerable growth in how Black Canadians served in the military. While some Black recruits would encounter resistance when trying to enlist in the army, in contrast to the First World War no segregated battalions were created. Thousands of Black Canadians served during the bloodiest war the world has ever seen. These brave individuals joined all Canadians serving, here at home, in England, and on the battlefields of Europe. Together they served in places like Italy, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
In the early years of the war, however, the Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force were not as inclusive in their policies. This did not mean that trail-blazing Black Canadians did not find a way to persevere and serve. Some Black sailors served in the Navy, and Black airmen served in the Air Force as ground crew and aircrew here at home and overseas in Europe.
The contribution of Black servicemen was second to none and several earned decorations for their bravery. Some Black women joined the military as well, serving in support roles so that more men were available for the front lines.
Black soldiers were among the Canadian Army troops that were sent to fight so far from home.
Today, Black Canadians standing on the shoulders of the trailblazers who led the way continue to serve proudly in uniform where they share in the sacrifices and achievements being made by the Canadian Armed Forces.
* information taken from CBC Kids website