Prime Minister Trudeau Delivers Apology for Racism Affecting No. 2 Construction Battalion of the First World War Canadian Expeditionary Force

4 ESR Receives Perpetuation Plaque
Black History - No. 2 Construction Battalion postage stamp issued 16 January 2016
No. 2 Construction Battalion Reenactors 2022
Publication Date 
12 Jul 2022

On Saturday, 9 July, the Colonel Commandant, MGen Benjamin and CME CWO Jones attended a ceremony in Truro, NS where the Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence delivered an apology for the systemic anti-Black racism endured by members of No. 2 Construction Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The CO 4 Engineer Support Regiment, LCol Dixon and his RSM, CWO Sloot, were part of the Ceremony to recognize this racism before, during, and long after the First World War. The Prime Minister apologized for the government’s mistreatment of soldiers who served in the Battalion and to their families, descendants, and communities.

Previously, on 1 June 2022, No. 2 Construction Battalion was ‘ awarded the Battle Honour “France and Flanders, 1917-18’ a distinguished military honour recognizing and paying tribute to their brave service in the Great War. On that same day, the Canadian Forces announced the perpetuation of the Battalion within 4 Engineer Support Regiment. This recognition ensures that No. 2 Construction Battalion takes its rightful place in Canada's proud military history so that its members will be remembered and honoured for generations to come.

During Saturday’s ceremonies, the VCDS, LGen Allen, explained the context behind Perpetuation in her speech and then presented the Perpetuation Plaque to CO 4 ESR with his RSM. The plaque was produced by the Carpentry Shop of 4 ESR and LCol Dixon mentioned that the Carpentry Shop of their new building will be named after No 2 Construction Battalion.

The Canadian Military Engineers consider the No. 2 Construction Battalion to be part of our Engineer Family because of the sapper work that they performed during the First World War. This is similar to how we regard the Canadian Forestry Corps and the Canadian Railway Troops as being part of the CME Family albeit they were their separate corps. While No. 2 Construction Battalion conducted sapper work, it never actually served as an Engineer unit. The Battalion was raised as an infantry unit and stayed on the books as an infantry unit until it was disbanded.

At the onset of the First World War, many Black volunteers were turned away when they tried to enlist. No. 2 Construction Battalion was formed in 1916 as a segregated unit since many Black service members were not permitted to fight alongside their white compatriots. Formed after Black communities across Canada put pressure on the government and military officials, it was the first and only all-Black battalion-sized formation in Canadian military history.

At the stage of the war when the Battalion was authorized, there was an urgent requirement for soldiers to be employed in support areas such as entrenching, road, railway and tramway construction and operations; forestry; sanitation; water supply and purification. The Canadian army authorized the formation of No. 2 Construction Battalion to be raised in Pictou and trained extensively in Truro for service overseas in response to Britain’s request for more railway and construction troops. The unit drew recruits from all across Canada and also included soldiers from the USA and the British West Indies. An extensive story of No. 2 Construction Battalion’s First World War operational history can be found at:

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During his speech, the Prime Minister acknowledged and apologized for the injustices and stated that the story of No. 2 Construction Battalion is one of resilience, determination, and strength in the face of adversity. In his concluding remarks, the Prime Minister stated: “Today, as we apologize for the overt anti-Black racism these brave men faced, we take every opportunity to learn from the past and build a better, more inclusive Canada for all. As we continue, as a country, to confront systemic racism, discrimination, and xenophobia in all its forms, the No. 2 Construction Battalion story will play an important role in ensuring this injustice never happens again.”

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