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Canada plans to apologize for the No. 2

In an event held on 28 March 2021 ( (external link) ), the Canadian government formally announced its intention to apologize for the systemic racism the Black men who served in the No. 2 Construction Battalion endured during their WW1 service, and after they returned home as war veterans.

During the event, members of the public were invited to provide suggestions on how best to commemorate the service of the men of the No. 2 Construction Battalion and mark the apology in a meaningful way.

As the families of the men who served in the No. 2, members of various Black communities across Canada, and the nation as a whole await the promised apology, those of us who participated in the Black Canada and the Great War symposium would like to invite our fellow Canadians to join us in a letter writing campaign. We are addressing letters to the Minister of National Defence, the Hon. Harjit S. Sajjan; and we are using our letters to offer suggestions on how the government and the country at large can properly honor the service of the men of the No. 2. (Hundreds of other Black men also served in non-segregated units in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War.)

Even if it’s only a few short sentences, we encourage everyone who sees this post to write a letter to Minister Sajjan. The more letters the Minister’s office receives, the more likely it is that our suggestions will be given serious consideration.

Let us all work together to rectify—as much as is possible—the injustices of the past, and signal our commitment to eliminating anti-Black racism and its effects in the military and in all other sectors of our society.

One of our symposium presenters, Col. (Ret’d) John Boileau, has kindly offered up his own letter and list of suggested commemorative actions to help spark ideas for our own letter writing. See below for copies of Col. Boileau’s documents.

 (PDF file) Click here to download a sample letter written by Colonel John Boileau.

Ceremony: The formal ceremony for the apology should be held at Pictou’s Market Wharf and the nearby deCoste Performing Arts Centre, where an annual ceremony has been held since 1993. That is the location of a granite memorial and a plaque erected by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the earliest suitable time for this ceremony will likely be in July 2022 (the 105th anniversary year of the battalion’s departure for overseas), on an appropriate Saturday or Sunday close to July 5, the date of the authorization for the establishment of No. 2 Construction Battalion. At the federal government level, I believe that the senior attendees should include the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs, the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Commander Canadian Army and the CAF Chief Engineer. 

Scroll: A formal apology scroll should be prepared in the format of an illuminated parchment. It would bear four signatures: the Governor General, the Prime Minister, The Minister of National Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff. The original copy of the scroll would be presented to the BCCNS for permanent display there. Replicas of the scroll could be prepared for wide distribution to ceremony attendees and others as a memento of the occasion.

Coin: In February 2016, Canada Post issued a stamp and first day cover in memory of No. 2 Construction Battalion. It would now be appropriate for the Royal Canadian Mint to issue a commemorative $1 or $2 coin on the occasion of the apology. Such a coin would be engraved with suitable No. 2 Construction Battalion symbols and make reference to the apology. It would be a tangible memento and reminder of the apology that would be distributed widely.  

History: An official unit history of No. 2 Construction Battalion does not exist. The Directorate of History and Heritage should be tasked to write such a history in time for the formal apology event. Given the short existence of the unit, it would not be a lengthy volume. Maj. Mathias Joost, a soon-to-retire DHH historian, wrote “No. 2 Construction Battalion: The Operational History” for the Canadian Military Journal Vol. 16, No. 3, Summer 2016 ( (external link) ). He has also conducted extensive research about black Canadians in the armed forces and should be considered to write the history, provided that he is available and willing. Besides being offered for sale, a copy of the history should be distributed to all of the approximately 600 public libraries, 100 universities, 3,400 secondary schools and 2,000 mixed secondary and elementary schools in Canada.

Plaque: As mentioned earlier, a granite memorial and an Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque are located at Pictou’s Market Wharf. An additional plaque or an interpretive panel should be erected next to these, containing the full wording of the apology, along with explanatory text.

Commendation: A CAF Unit Commendation should be presented to No. 2 Construction Battalion. The objects associated with the commendation (scroll, medallion, flag) would be put on permanent display at the BCCNS.

Highway: Highways 376 and 4 between Pictou and Truro should be renamed “No. 2 Construction Battalion Memorial Highway.” These roads connect the two towns in Nova Scotia where No. 2 Construction Battalion was stationed before it was sent overseas in March 1917 (as these roads are under provincial jurisdiction, I have copied this letter to the Premier of Nova Scotia).

African Heritage Month: The theme and poster for African Heritage Month in 2022, at least in Nova Scotia, should commemorate the apology (as above, an event under the control of the province).

Perpetuation: I believe that the perpetuation of No. 2 Construction Battalion by 4 Engineer Support Regiment has been approved but not yet announced. It seems that the proper occasion to formally announce this perpetuation would be at the apology ceremony. As large a contingent as possible from 4 Engineer Support Regiment should attend and parade at this event. I can assure you that this perpetuation will be very meaningful to the descendants of the men who served in No. 2 Construction Battalion, as well as to the black community at large. 

Grant: The Government of Canada should award a suitable grant to the BCCNS to enable it to enhance and expand its permanent display about No. 2 Construction Battalion.

Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo: The Government of Canada should award a suitable grant to the Tattoo (the world’s largest annual indoor show) to commemorate the apology event. In the battalion’s centennial year in 2016, the show included an act commemorating the unit, and another one could be produced to commemorate the apology.

We would like to hear your suggestions for commemorative actions. Please email your suggestions to We will add suggestions sent in by community members to Col. Boileau's list above. 

Transcripts of the diaries of the Rev. Captain William A. White

The manuscript and transcripts of the war diaries of Rev. Captain William A. White, Chaplain of the No. 2 Construction Battalion can be found on the Operation Canada website: (external link) . Operation Canada is a digital archive of underrepresented World War I diaries from public and private collections which have been located, compiled, and transcribed by the Modern Literature and Culture (MLC) Research Centre. Learn more about the initiative by visiting (external link) . (external link)