Black History in Canada

12 SECTION 5: IMMIGRATION AND THE CANADIAN CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT IN THE 20TH CENTURY Black people have migrated to Canada throughout its history, sometimes by force and other times by choice. In the early 20th century, a small number of Jamaicans and Barbadians migrated as labourers to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. However, immigration by people of African descent — including from the Caribbean — remained highly discouraged and restricted. The Immigration Act of 1910 allowed the prohibition of immigrants deemed “unsuited to the climate or requirements of Canada,” which effectively allowed immigration officials to block many non-white immigrants. Because of this legislation, very few Black people from the Caribbean were allowed into Canada in the early 20th century. Various organizations were established by the Black community in Montreal which supported and helped new Black migrants to the country. Some of these organizations include the Women’s Coloured Club of Montreal (founded in 1902) and the Negro Community Centre (founded in 1927). Not only did these organizations provide support and resources to those in need in the Black community, but they also fought for the rights of Black Canadians decades after their establishment. Despite Black Canadians migrating, settling, and creating their own communities across Canada, there had long been a strong and deepseated anti-Black sentiment across the country from white Canadians. This sentiment reached a high in the early 20th century. It was in this period of “negrophobia,” a dislike and fear of Black people, that many Black Canadians across the country united and supported each other through this hostile anti-Black climate. It was also during this period that the fight for equality and basic civil rights for Black Canadians intensified, with various individuals, organizations, and groups dedicating their efforts towards this cause. NO. 2 CONSTRUCTION BATTALION The No. 2 Construction Battalion was established in July 1916, during the First World War. After the outbreak of the First World War, Black Canadians made their way in large numbers to recruiting stations to enlist in the war and follow a long tradition of Black Canadians fighting for their country. However, once there, they were told it was a “white man’s war” and were turned away. There were several appeals and protests that took place to fight against this blatant discrimination, and after two years, the No. 2 Construction Battalion was created. Since the British War Office would not allow a Black battalion into combat, they were declared a labour battalion, which worked in England and along the front lines. Nevertheless, the creation of this battalion was essential for Black Canadians who wanted to serve their country. These men stood up to fight against anti-Black racism and in turn, for the right to serve one’s country. The No. 2 Construction Battalion serves as an important example to other Black Canadians in the fight for human and civil rights. In July 2022, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave a formal apology to the men of this battalion. During the First and Second World Wars, Black Canadians faced anti-Black racism and resistance from military officials who didn’t want them to serve. The Second World War came in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement in Canada, and the fight for civil rights for Black Canadians continued during and after this war. Many Canadians are aware of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, but the fight for the rights of Black and racialized communities in Canada is lesser known. Black Canadians have long fought against racism and racial segregation in many areas, including housing, education, and employment opportunities, and have always advocated for their rights. The Canadian Civil Rights Movement was led by a number of strong leaders, including organizer and activist Bromley Armstrong; the National Unity Association’s Hugh Burnett; Donald Moore, the founder of the Negro Citizenship Association; and activist and co-founder of The Clarion newspaper, Carrie Best, among others. These advocates and activists led the fight against racism and discrimination and pushed for improvement for all Black Canadians. Donald Moore pictured in The Canadian Negro, Vol. 2, No. 3 (City of Toronto Archives/Fonds 431, File 10, Item 1) No. 2 Construction Battalion Nominal Roll - 1916 (HC Dodge for Sponagle/States Collection/Nova Scotia Archives/1981-337)