No. 2 Construction Battalion

Image: No.2 Construction Battalion, c. 1917 (courtesy Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia)

Despite having defended Canada with courage and distinction during the American War of Independence, the War of 1812 and the Rebellions of 1837, somehow the true bravery of African Canadians was not well known. Consequently, the efforts of many Black men to enlist when World War I broke out were rebuked. There were no separate Black units and Black individuals could enlist in battalions only at the discretion of commanding officers. They were told it was "a white man's war."
As the war entered its third year, Canadian enlistment fell from 30 000 to 6000 per month. A separate construction battalion was proposed and supported in order to increase the numbers. On July 5, 1916, military officials authorized the creation of No. 2 Construction Battalion with headquarters in Pictou, NS, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel D.H. Sutherland. The unit's officers were White, with the exception of the battalion chaplain, Reverend William Andrew White. African Canadians enlisted from across the country and the United States. The battalion served with the Canadian Forestry Corps. Their role as a construction unit was to support the front lines, building roads and bridges and defusing land mines so advancing troops could move forward, and bringing out the wounded. No. 2 Construction Battalion was officially disbanded on September 15, 1920.

Canada's Black Battalion: No. 2 Construction, 1916-1920
Read an online digitized copy of Calvin Ruck’s book Canada's Black Battalion: No. 2 Construction, 1916-1920. From the Our Roots website.

Blacks also fought and died for Canada in Great Wars
An article about Black Canadians who served in the British and Canadian Armed Forces. From the website for share.

No. 2 Construction Battalion Monument
A photo of the No. 2 Construction Battalion Monument in the Town of Pictou, Nova Scotia.

Honour Before Glory
An article about Honour Before Glory, a film devoted to Canada's one and only all-Black military battalion in the First World War, the No. 2 Construction Battalion. By writer, actor, producer and director Anthony Sherwood. From Veterans Affairs Canada.

Lest we forget
This article focuses on the legacy of the No. 2 Construction Battalion. From Sway magazine.

Honour Before Glory
A review of Honour Before Glory, a film based on the diary of Reverend William H. White, Chaplain of the #2 Construction Battalion in World War I. From the Manitoba Library Association website.

Canadian Black History - An Interactive Experience
Search for clues about Black Canadian history in this interactive online treasure hunt presented by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

A White Man's War
Scroll down the page to see two letters about Black Canadians who tried to enlist in the military during World War I. From the Canadian Human Rights Commission website.

Captain of Souls: Rev. William White
About Captain Reverend William Andrew White, the only Black chaplain and Black officer in the British Army during World War I. From White Pine Pictures.

No. 2 Construction Battalion
About the No. 2 Construction Battalion, a Black Canadian Expeditionary Force unit in World War I. From the Canadian Military Engineers Association.

Charlie Owens
A photograph and brief profile of Charlie Owens, a member of the No. 2 Construction Battalion in World War I. From the Council of Nova Scotia Archives.