No. 2 Construction Battalion, the first and only all-Black battalion-sized unit in Canadian military history, is being remembered on the 2023 issue of the Royal Canadian Mint’s ongoing Commemorating Black History series.
In the opening years of the First World War, hundreds of Black Canadians eagerly tried to enlist for Canada, but racism prevented many from joining their White compatriots on the battlefields overseas. In 1916, persistent lobbying and a request from the British for labor battalions provided the opportunity for a Black unit to be created. No. 2 Construction Battalion would serve alongside the Canadian Forestry Corps in the forests of France. They helped with lumber and milling operations, including the loading and transportation of finished timber by rail. This timber was vital to the Allied war effort, lining trenches, supporting observation posts and for the construction of aircraft in France. A few battalion members even fought and suffered casualties while serving with other Canadian Expeditionary Force units. The battalion returned to Canada in early 1919 and was disbanded in 1920.
After much research, writing, storytelling and advocacy, descendants of No. 2 Construction Battalion and their allies successfully campaigned for a formal apology for the racism and discrimination endured by battalion members, which the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada and the Honourable Anita Anand, Minister of National Defence, delivered before descendants assembled in Truro, Nova Scotia on July 9, 2022.
Released in conjunction with the annual observance of Black History Month, the 2023 $20 Fine Silver Coin – Commemorating Black History honors the service and sacrifice of the proud members of No. 2 Construction Battalion. It is available now.
“At the outbreak of the First World War, many Black men felt the call to serve their country. Many were rejected due to anti-Black racism. After years of lobbying, No. 2 Construction Battalion was authorized in 1916,” said Russell Grosse, Executive Director of the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia. “These brave men had to fight for the right to serve, they provided valuable logistical support to the frontlines. This coin commemorates the remarkable legacy of No. 2 and builds on the formal apology that was given by the Government of Canada this past summer to ensure that this important history is remembered.”
“Those who step forward to serve our country deserve to be honored. But for far too long—and for no reason but the color of their skin—the men of the No. 2 Construction Battalion did not receive the recognition that their service to Canada deserved,” said the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. “We have a responsibility to remember their sacrifice, and this coin will help ensure that more Canadians learn about and pay tribute to those who fought for the right to so bravely serve in uniform.”
“Despite facing discrimination before, during, and after their service in the Great War, the men of No. 2 Construction Battalion bravely served our country. We are forever in their debt,” said the Honourable Anita Anand, Minister of National Defence. “Together with Canada’s official apology to the Battalion’s members and descendants last summer, this coin will commemorate their remarkable contributions and help raise awareness of the Battalion. Today, we reaffirm our gratitude to these courageous men, and vow to never forget their service to Canada.”
The reverse design of this 99.99% pure silver coin, by artist Kwame Delfish, features a soldier of No. 2 Construction Battalion, standing at attention between two railroad tracks. His battalion’s cap badge is prominently displayed on his right, adjacent to a landscape of France’s Jura region, where the battalion assisted with logging and building a railroad. To his left, battalion comrades are marching in a parade prior to their March 1917 deployment to Europe.
“The existence and accomplishments of the men of No. 2 Construction Battalion is another part of Canadian history that is to be acknowledged, celebrated, and honored – forever,” said artist Kwame Delfish. “I hope I was able to capture these honorable men in a way that represents their strength and resilience, while also raising awareness about the important role that No. 2 Construction Battalion had in the Canadian armed forces.”
The obverse of the coin features an updated obverse design that will appear on 2023 collector and bullion coins until a new permanent obverse is adopted on Canadian coins. The Susanna Blunt-designed effigy of Queen Elizabeth II, set against a repeating maple leaf-patterned background, is accompanied by a special marking consisting of a vertical inscription of the dates “1952” and “2022”, separated by four pearls symbolizing the four effigies that have graced Canadian coins throughout the reign.
“The Royal Canadian Mint is proud to continue supporting the national celebration of Black History Month with a beautiful silver coin that shines a much-needed spotlight on the story of No. 2 Construction Battalion,” said Marie Lemay, President and CEO of the Royal Canadian Mint. “Each new coin adds a piece to the incredible mosaic that is Canada’s history and we are pleased that we can permanently record the honorable achievements of the men of No. 2 Construction Battalion on a beautiful silver coin that can be passed down from generation to generation.”
Limited to a mintage of 5,500, the 2023 $20 Fine Silver Coin Commemorating Black History – The No. 2 Construction Battalion retails for $99.95. This new collectible may be ordered as of today by contacting the Mint at 1-800-267‑1871 in Canada, 1-800-268‑6468 in the US, or at www.mint.ca. It will also be available at the Royal Canadian Mint’s boutiques in Ottawa and Winnipeg, at participating Canada Post outlets, and through the Mint’s global network of dealers and distributors.
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About the Royal Canadian Mint
The Royal Canadian Mint is the Crown corporation responsible for the minting and distribution of Canada’s circulation coins. The Mint is recognized as one of the largest and most versatile mints in the world, offering a wide range of specialized, high-quality coinage products and related services on an international scale. For more information on the Mint, its products and services, visit www.mint.ca.