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Black History Month 2022: The Struggle to Serve During the First World War


During the First World War, many men of African descent who tried to serve Canada were told they were not welcome. Some did manage to break through recruitment barriers and join the Army. However, for most of the war, people of African descent and their allies fought against anti-Black racism, and officials did little to end racist practices.

In 1916, officials fell on the idea of creating No.2 Construction Battalion as a way people of African descent could serve. Absent of meaningful engagement with Black advocates, and plagued by the failure to address institutionalized anti-Black racism, its creation also perpetuated inequities that had serious implications for many of the men and communities who ultimately stepped forward in service to Canada.

This retrospective event on the Black experience in Canada during the First World War will include a presentation and panel discussion with historians to explore this important part of Canadian history, the prevalence and challenges of institutionalized anti-Black racism, and how government and civil institutions responded during a period of national crisis.

Learn about the implications of policy and program decisions, the importance of citizen activism and meaningful community engagement, the definitions of allyship, and how events from the past can help us think about the present and the future.

A live Q&A will follow the presentation and panel discussion.

This event is presented in partnership with the Federal Black Employee Caucus (FBEC).

Learn more about the Anti-Racism Event Series and Anti-Racism Learning Series.


  • Sean Foyn, Senior Strategic Policy Advisor, Federal Black Employee Caucus
  • Alisha Campbell, Ontario Region Representative, Federal Black Employee Caucus
  • Kathy Grant, Historian and Founder of the Legacy Voices Institute and of Black Canadian Veterans


Esrom Tesfamichael, Policy Officer, Directorate for Gender Equality and Intersectional Analysis, Department of National Defence

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