Kitchener-Waterloo

Black soldiers from Guelph honoured in digital project

Black Canadian soldiers from Guelph are being honoured for their war contributions and fight against racism through in a new digital project.

Veterans were members of No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canada's first and only all-Black unit

Members of the No. 2 Construction Battalion are shown in this photo, which is part of the visual presentation launched on Wednesday. (Submitted by Jade Ferguson )

Black Canadian soldiers from Guelph are being honoured for their war contributions and fight against racism in a new digital project.

Students at the University of Guelph partnered with the Guelph Black Heritage Society and other Canadian historians to highlight several men from the area who were members of the No. 2 Construction Battalion.

The battalion, which was established in 1916, was Canada's first and only all-Black unit in the First World War.

Black men were initially denied the right to serve and only could do so after petitioning the government for about two years.

"The enlistment struggle was sort of a decisive moment in which Black Canadians reckoned with the limitations that came with being Black in Canada," said Jade Ferguson, associate professor at the University of Guelph whose students are presenting the project.

"These men went overseas but they had to fight two wars to do that, they had to fight a war at home against racism and discrimination and they had to fight a war oversees for freedom," she said.

Watch the video project by University of Guelph associate professor Jade Ferguson and her students:

The projects shares stories of veterans who were either born or resided in Guelph, including Henry Francis Courtney, brothers Victor and Gordon Goines and their nephew Tom Malott. It also highlights the contributions of Black women.

Ferguson said these stories often get overlooked.

"I think we often think about Black Canadian history when it relates to slavery and more recent events. I think that there is this time between post-emancipation and the wave of immigration that came in the 1960s. So the stories of Black Canadians at the turn of the century don't necessarily get told," she said.

She said students in her class are also drawing similarities to Black Lives Matter.

"The same political struggle for a more just world that these men were seeking is the same struggle we see today in Black Lives Matter. That the past and the present is still connected and an attempt to make a more just future is still needed," said Ferguson.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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