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Calvin Ruck and the Construction Battalion

The Story

When young black Canadian men wanted to join the fight overseas during the First World War, they were told it was "a white man's war," and "we'll call you when we need you." Some persevered, joined the military, and were later assigned to the all-black Number 2 Construction Battalion, which was primarily a forestry work company. Calvin Ruck, civil rights activist, worked to make Canadians aware of the story and, and on the day of the dedication of a monument to the regiment in Pictou, N.S., he tells 1st Edition reporter Dan O'Connell about it.

Broadcast Medium: Television
Program: 1st Edition
Reporter: Dan O'Connell
Guest: Calvin Ruck
Broadcast Date: July 9, 1993
Duration: 3:54

Did You know?

• Calvin Ruck was born Sept. 4, 1925 in Sydney N.S., and died in Ottawa on Oct. 19, 2004.  He worked as a sleeping-car porter with CNR, beginning in 1945. In 1954 he and his family experienced the racist reaction of a community where he wanted to build a home, and around that time he began his life-long work as a human rights activist.

• In 1979 he graduated from Dalhousie University's Maritime School of Social Work, and found work with the Department of Social Services in Halifax.

• In 1981 he was appointed to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, and in 1998, he was appointed to the Senate.

• Ruck published the book Canada's Black Battalion: No. 2 Construction, 1916-1920 Canada's Best Kept Military Secret in 1986, and in 1993, the first annual ceremony honouring the men of that battalion took place with the dedication of a monument on July 9.

• The No. 2 Construction Battalion was formed July 5, 1916, with headquarters in Pictou, N.S. All of the unit's officers, except for the chaplain (Reverend William A. White), were white. The group was moved to Truro, N.S. in September of that year.

• After the formal authorization for the formation of the battalion, recruits were pulled from all over North America -- Nova Scotia, Ontario, the West and the U.S. With 19 officers and 605 men, the group left for Liverpool, England on Mar. 28, 1917. They were assigned to work in France with the Canadian Forestry Corps. Some of the men were assigned to units where they saw combat. The battalion was disbanded Sept. 15, 1920.

• William Hall was the first black man and Nova Scotian to receive the Victoria Cross. He was awarded the honour for his part in the Relief of Lucknow, in 1857, during the Indian Mutiny of 1857-58. He died and was buried without military honours in an unmarked grave in Hantsport, N.S. His remains were moved to a site in the Baptist Church there in 1945, and here you can listen to a report about a monument erected there in 1947.


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