Black Canadian Veterans with Kathy Grant

| November 4, 2020

Juno Beach and Beyond
Black Canadian Veterans with Kathy Grant

2020 has been a challenging year. Amid the pandemic, the deaths of African-Americans like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement led to the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement across the world. In Canada, these events have forced our society to reflect inwardly on our treatment of Black Canadians, both in recent times and in the past.  

Black Canadians have served in Canada’s conflicts from the earliest days. During the War of 1812, Upper Canada raised the Coloured Corps, a Black militia company, to help defend the colony from American invaders. In the First World War, many Black Canadians served with the No. 2 Construction Battalion, a segregated unit created in 1916. Others managed to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force to serve alongside their fellow Canadians at the front.   

In the Second World War, the Canadian armed forces dropped segregated units. Yet racial barriers to service remained. The Royal Canadian Navy was all but closed to non-whites while the Royal Canadian Air Force became less restrictive as the need for manpower rose. In some cases, Blacks were turned away by recruiters for all three services acting on their own prejudices regardless of the official policies. Of the several thousand Black men and women who served, their experiences in uniform varied. Some experienced little racism, while others received much harsher treatments from their fellow servicemen and women.

There was irony in the fact that Black men and women enlisted to fight tyranny overseas but returned home to a society that still restricted their freedoms. The story of Black Canadian service during the Second World War remains understudied and needs to be further integrated into the national memory of the war. 

A Black Canadian soldier gives the thumbs-up sign through a porthole as his ship arrives at an English port, 1940 (Hulton Deutsch, Black Canadian Veterans Stories of War Facebook Page).

Time Stamps

4:40 Owen Rowe’s Legacy

13:30 Major Anniversaries

20:25 Involving Students

22:38 Comparing First and Second World War Experiences

32:07 Memorable Stories

39:29 Advocacy After the War

Guest Biography

Kathy Grant is the daughter of Second World War veteran Owen Rowe, a native of Barbados who travelled to Montreal to enlist in the Canadian armed forces. She is a public historian carrying on her father’s mission to preserve stories of Black Canadian veterans. Kathy is the president of The Legacy Voices Project. In 2012, she received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her work. More recently, Kathy fundraised for and developed The Voices Exhibition in collaboration with Peel Art Gallery Museum and Archives (PAMA): Highlighting the Experiences of Black War Veterans.


The following links offer more information on the topics discussed in this episode:

Black Canadian Veteran Resources

Black Canadian Veterans Stories of War Facebook Page

Black Canadians in the Great War Facebook Page

Black Volunteers in the First World War (The Canadian Encyclopedia)

No. 2 Construction Battalion (The Canadian Encyclopedia)

Black Canadians in Uniform – A Proud Tradition (Veterans Affairs Canada)

Stories from Black Canadian Veterans of the Second World War (The Memory Project)


Double Threat with Ellin Bessner (Jewish Canadian Veterans)


Juno Beach & Beyond is hosted and edited by Alex Fitzgerald-Black, the Juno Beach Centre Association’s Operations and Outreach Manager.

Mackenzie King’s speech to British Parliament from the British Pathé YouTube channel:

Artillery firing sounds from the CBC News: The National YouTube Channel:

Female veteran’s voice (Eileen Green, née Short) Courtesy of The Memory Project, Historica Canada:

Winston Churchill’s “Finest Hour” speech from Jonathan Thomas’s YouTube channel:

Spitfire sound effect from Jason Kirby’s YouTube channel:

Dramatic Interlude by Alexander Nakarada |

Music promoted by

Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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