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October 21 & 22, 2016
Fountain Learning Commons  ::  Acadia University


This important symposium, "To Do Our Share": The African Canadian Experience in WW1, brings together scholars, African Canadian descendants and community members, students, and the public, in the sharing of narratives about this little-known aspect of Canadian history. 

It is particularly appropriate that this historic event is hosted by Acadia University. The Reverend William A. White was Acadia's second Black graduate. An African American who came to Canada to seek higher education, he had a stellar record of public and community service, both during WWI and in his later life in Nova Scotia. 

Public knowledge of the Reverend White's service and that of the men of the No. 2 Construction Battalion has been sadly neglected. This event provides a forum for the discussion and dissemination of new research regarding the African Canadian experience in WWI. We will gather historical material for future study, and for use as teaching materials in schools and universities across Canada. Together we will increase both public and scholarly knowledge regarding the No. 2 Construction Battalion, and the particular role of Reverend William White. 


Courtesy of Parks Canada.

When World War 1 broke out, African Canadians flocked to enlist. However, black men were largely excluded from serving in the military due to racial discrimination. The No. 2 Construction Battalion was formed after vociferous protest on the part of black Canadians. It was formally authorized on July 5, 1916. 

Until 1916, the Canadian military rejected African Canadian enlistment, eliciting protests and petitions from Black communities across the country.  Enlistees arrived from all over Canada, the US and the West Indies, leaving their families behind to serve on the home front. They trained at Pictou, Nova Scotia before being shipped overseas to provide essential support for the war effort in England and France. 

Canada's famous Black Battalion trained at Truro and Pictou, Nova Scotia, before being deployed overseas. The men of the No. 2 were not, however, permitted to bear arms. Rather they served as a construction and engineering unit to build roads, construct earthworks, and carry out lumbering operations. They served with courage and great honour.  

They "Did Their Share." 

Reverend William A. White

Acadia University’s second graduate of African descent (1903), Reverend White was chaplain to our nation’s only segregated unit in World War 1, and the only Black commissioned officer in the entire Canadian Expeditionary Force. His diary kept throughout the conflict sheds fascinating light on the courage and sacrifice of the men of the No. 2. 

After the war Reverend White, minister of the historic Cornwallis Street Baptist Church in Halifax, was very active in community and church affairs, and the first pastor to use radio to broadcast his inspiring sermons throughout the Atlantic Canada.  Reverend William A. White received an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Acadia University in 1936. He was the first African Canadian awarded an honorary doctorate in Maritime Canada. 

Courtesy of Acadia University Archives.

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