Black History Ottawa commemorates Black Veterans

Friday 11 November 2022

Black History Ottawa VP Jean Marie Guerrier, right and Community Outreach Officer Sarah Onyango, 2nd right.

Remembrance Day ceremonies: Black History Ottawa lays wreath in memory of Black Canadian veterans

by Ruth Aman

On November 11, 2022, Canada celebrated its 103rd Remembrance Day. Surrounding the National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa, hundreds of men and women of all ages and backgrounds gathered together for a memorial ceremony, proudly wearing their poppies. Opening with the Veterans parade, the ceremony included appearances and speeches from Canadian dignitaries including Canada’s Governor-General Mary Simon, Mrs. Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, the Chief of Defense staff and military officials such as Navy Captain Bonita Mason. As the clock struck eleven, a moment of silence was held and the playing of the Last Post commenced. In the distance a 21-gun salute blazed. The program also included a benediction led by Rabbi Idan Scher and songs of remembrance which were sung by Ottawa’s Children Choir. The Air Force paid tribute by having a fly-past featuring vintage and current military aircraft flying overhead.

As the ceremony came to a close, many individuals and groups were invited to take part in the symbolic gesture of laying wreaths around the memorial. The wreath laying ceremony was a beautiful image of respect and honor for those who have passed on to greater glory. 

For the first time ever, Black History Ottawa laid a wreath in remembrance of all Black Canadians who contributed to Canadian military history and fought in the Great Wars, Korea, Afghanistan and other military campaigns, as well as those who have participated in U.N. peacekeeping and NATO operations. Many Canadians are unaware of the countless contributions made by Black Canadians. Yet, history speaks to the immense impact of Black Canadians as they were essential to the strength and success of the Canadian military, even in the midst of the racism and injustice they faced while serving.

This was highlighted by CAF Chaplain General Brig.- Gen. Guy Bélisle when he mentioned the all-Black No. 2 Construction Battalion from World War I in his remarks. On June 1, 2022, No. 2 Construction Battalion was awarded the ‘France and Flanders, 1917-18’ Battle Honour, a distinguished military honour recognizing and paying tribute to their brave service in the Great War. This batallion was the largest Black unit that traveled throughout Canada and Europe and operated in forestry, construction, and the creation of railroads, water systems, and electrical systems necessary for the war effort. Despite facing intense racism and prejudice from their counterparts, they pushed forth recognizing that their involvement and work was not out of vain. On July 9, 2022, the descendants of this same all-Black military unit received a long-awaited national apology from the government of Canada.

On behalf of Black History Ottawa, Vice-President Jean-Marie Guerrier laid a wreath at the foot of the National War Memorial. After the ceremony, members of the public were allowed to approach the Monument and lay their poppies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Alongside Black History Ottawa, other Black associations such as Legacy Voices, West Indian Youth Association and the Defence Team Black Employee Network also took part in the laying of wreaths and then gathered together to take photos. These organizations honored the great legacy of all Black Canadian veterans and honored not only their impact in Canadian history, but their own heritage as well.

Members of these associations later met with the West Point Cadets from the U.S., Lt.-Cmdr. Esrom Tesfamichael, a Canadian Navy officer, and several community members to commemorate their participation by taking photos. Not only was this a moment for individuals from all walks of life with military background to come together and encourage each other and be inspired, but this was also a time of sharing the stories of loved ones who gave their lives willingly for the freedom of all Canadians. Robert Downey Jr, who is featured in the pictures taken, is a direct descendant of soldiers who were apart of No. 2 Construction Battalion. In his discussion with the cadets and those around him, he was able to share and uphold the legacy of his family.

The sacrifice that all Black Canadians have made for the nation of Canada and the paths they have paved ways for other people of colour will not be forgotten.

For more information on the achievements and involvement of Black Canadians within the armed forces throughout Canada’s history check out this link:

For more information on the No. 2 Construction Battalion, visit

For more information on Black History Ottawa: Email: Web:

Ruth Aman

Ruth Aman is a Project Officer with Black History Ottawa. She holds a Bachelor of Global and International Studies (Honors) degree, with a specialization in Law and Social Justice from Carleton University.

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