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.
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
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
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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SlEvclY5LE&t=48s
Artillery firing sounds from the CBC News: The National YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsCSQ4uWR1Y
Female veteran’s voice (Eileen Green, née Short) Courtesy of The Memory Project, Historica Canada: http://www.thememoryproject.com/stories/383:eileen-green-nee-short/
Winston Churchill’s “Finest Hour” speech from Jonathan Thomas’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jB5wZtV1MWM
Spitfire sound effect from Jason Kirby’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgZI4tAoMN0
Dramatic Interlude by Alexander Nakarada | https://www.serpentsoundstudios.com
Music promoted by https://www.free-stock-music.com
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Dispatches from Juno shares all the news, events, and stories from the Juno Beach Centre in France and Canada. Interested in contributing a story to the blog? Email the editor at email@example.com.