Cooking trophy to honour Canadian Forces' first black chief warrant officer

The 5th Canadian Army Division will rename the championship trophy for a cooking competition trophy after Hubert Johnson of Jordantown, N.S.

'If my father knew we were doing all of this stuff ... he would just downplay it,' says son Kerry Johnson

Hubert Reginald Johnson (left, second row) is shown during a military training course in 1970. (Submitted by Kerry Johnson)

In the late 1940s, Hubert Reginald Johnson was earning $1.25 a day for 10 hours of work in a lumber mill. After just one month, the young man from Jordantown, N.S., man realized he was in a dead-end job with few other opportunities around.

He decided to leave that job and entered the Canadian Army Reserve in 1949. Two years later, he entered the army full-time and trained as a cook.

Johnson became a member of the Order of Military Merit for his volunteer work in his community. (Submitted by Kerry Johnson)

In 1973, Johnson was promoted and became the first black chief warrant officer in the Canadian Forces. That same year he was also made a member of the Order of Military Merit for his volunteer work in his community.

On April 8, the 5th Canadian Division will host Exercise Maroon Chef, a cooking competition at Camp Aldershot, just outside of Kentville.

The winning team will receive a trophy named in Johnson's memory. The trophy previously had no official name.

"It was just a milestone achievement, which is a legacy that we want to live on," said Capt. Francesca Walsh, who is organizing the event.

"And this is an annual cooking exercise, so we want to be able to honour that achievement and [it's] something that we want our cooks to be able to know about and we want to be able to discuss annually during that exercise."

Johnson (left, back row) is shown with other Royal Canadian Legion members. (Submitted by Kerry Johnson)

There will be six teams in competition. Each is made up of one cook from the reserves and one from the Nova Scotia Community College's culinary arts program.

They will prepare gourmet dishes in mobile kitchen trailers. The event will be held starting at 11 a.m. and is free and open to the public.

Warrant Officer Aaron Arnold designed the trophy, which will weigh between 16 and 18 kilograms. It's been crafted by a military member at CFB Gagetown.

The base of the trophy, Arnold said, is a butcher block made from various types of hardwood.

On top of there is a shield to symbolize the CAF's protection of Canada with a maroon background – the colour representing the 5th Division. It will also include knives embossed with maple leafs.

The trophy is topped with a crown — a symbol of the Queen and Canada's sovereignty.

Johnson, shown with some of his family, died last April at 87. (Submitted by Kerry Johnson)

Johnson died almost a year ago at 87.

He served in many places during his career. Before retiring in 1977, he completed tours in Korea, the Gaza Strip and Egypt, among others.

And as a chief cook, he organized the annual harvest supper at Acaciaville Baptist Church for almost three decades.

His obituary said he enjoyed gardening and was an avid farmer donating what he grew to the harvest supper.

"I remember as a child at that time, I was only 14, 15, and we'd all go out and we would serve tables so he would gather all the youth at the time," Kerry Johnson, Hubert's son, said in an interview.

"He also started a youth group there. We had over 70 kids at one point in time and this and he got the youth to wait on the tables and help him in the kitchen."

Hubert Reginald Johnson is pictured here with his son, Kerry Johnson, at a 2015 Remembrance Day ceremony. (Submitted by Kerry Johnson)

Hubert Johnson was also one of the founding members of the Acaciaville Conway Betterment Association. In 2017, the association secured $2.25 million from the Nova Scotia government funding to build a new community centre in Digby County.

The proposed 14,905-square-foot centre will be built in the historic black community of Acaciaville, and also serve nearby Jordantown and Conway.

"If my father knew we were doing all of this stuff, I can tell you that he would just downplay it. I know he was a proud man," Kerry Johnson said.

"He's got 11 grandchildren and they're awed. They're just so proud of their grandfather and they often speak of him."

About the Author

Sherri Borden Colley

Reporter

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca