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'It's okay Dad, I'll keep my promise' - how Kathy Grant devoted herself to Canada's forgotten Black veterans

Kathy Grant's father, Owen, had been one of a small group of Black soldiers in World War II whose story had gone largely untold. Until he, and Kathy, devoted the last months of his life to telling it.
Kathy Grant's father and his fellow soldiers, September 1943.
Kathy Grant as a child, with her parents at a Montreal wedding.

We don't always get a chance for a do-over with the people we love. It's one of the harsh lessons of growing up that many of the relationships we cherish exist in the past and can never be re-ignited.

But Kathy Grant had just such a chance. She found herself in the unique position of being able to re-establish a relationship with her father. He was dying and he needed her. Despite an emotional distance that had developed over years of physical distance, without hesitation Kathy relocated from Toronto back to her childhood home of Montreal to take care of her father in his final days. During this time she found herself not only reconnecting with her father, but helping him finish his life's work. 

Kathy's father, Owen Rowe, was a veteran of the Second World War and he'd made it his mission to educate Canadians about the role Black soldiers played in the military. Owen had arrived in Quebec from Barbados with a small group of young men eager to serve, and they joined other Black men from across the country to fight under the Canadian flag. Owen felt it was a story few Canadians had heard and he was determined to make the stories of these men common knowledge.

A group of black veterans honoured in Ottawa. (Kathy Grant)
When Kathy entered his small apartment after bringing him home from the hospital, every possible surface was covered in piles of photographs. Owen had been diligently collecting photos for years, reaching out to veterans and their families across Europe and the Caribbean. Before he got sick, he had meticulously labelled and colour coded his pictures and filed them away to include in the book he was planning to write.

But now he was too sick.

"It's important that these men be honoured, because they put their lives on the line."

Kathy quickly realized that her opportunity to reconnect with her dad didn't just mean she could re-establish her relationship with him, it also meant she was in a position to help him with his work and make sure he fulfilled his mission. Those last few months of Owen's life, father and daughter worked together to make sure the pictures in Owen's collection were correctly labelled and filed. She encouraged him and pushed him. And as he breathed his last breath, she promised him that she would make sure his dream stayed alive and she would work to educate Canadians about their forgotten soldiers.

Kathy has set up a Facebook page devoted to the stories of Black Canadian veterans.

About the producer

Naheed Mustafa
Naheed Mustafa is an award-winning producer, writer, and broadcaster. She began her career as a freelance reporter when she left Canada and moved to Pakistan where she worked for both local English language media and newspapers back home. After coming back to Canada, Naheed added broadcasting to her list of media platforms and became a regular documentary contributor at CBC Radio. Alongside documentary, Naheed has also worked as a producer for a variety of news and current affairs programs at CBC Radio including Dispatches, As It Happens, The Current, and Ideas. She will spend the upcoming year as a William Southam Journalism Fellow at Massey College, University of Toronto as the CBC/Radio-Canada fellow.