2023 Canada $20 Commemorating Black History: No. 2 Construction Battalion Fine Silver (No Tax)
They served with distinction, and they were willing to risk their lives to preserve the very rights and freedoms that weren’t always afforded to them before, during and after the First World War. From the unit’s formation in 1916 until its disbandment in 1920, the members of No. 2 Construction Battalion—the largest all-Black battalion-sized unit in Canadian military history—persevered in the face of anti-Black racism to provide vital support to Canada’s war effort, by assisting Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC) lumber operations in France.
This 99.99% pure silver coin honours the brave men who served in No. 2 Construction Battalion and brings to light their often-overlooked contribution in the First World War. Despite racial prejudice, the members of No. 2 Construction Battalion persevered in their determination to serve, and a century later, their legacy remains an inspiration.
During the first two years of the First World War, hundreds of Black Canadians eagerly attempted to enlist with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, but most were turned away because they were Black. Still, Black Canadians and white supporters pressed officials to allow Black enlistment. When Britain requested more labour units from Canada in 1916, the decision was made to establish a segregated labour battalion.
No. 2 Construction Battalion was formed on July 5, 1916, and was initially headquartered in Pictou, N.S. before moving to Truro, N.S. On March 28, 1917, the battalion sailed from Halifax aboard the SS Southland bound for Liverpool, England. No. 2 Construction Battalion arrived on April 7, 1917. At this time, the unit was reorganized as a labour company and renamed No. 2 Canadian Construction Company because it did not have enough men to be considered a battalion. On May 17, the unit was deployed to France’s mountainous Jura Department, where the men assisted the Canadian Forestry Corps with lumber and logging operations, transportation and railroad construction, water and power supply, and road maintenance.
While a small number of the soldiers of the battalion saw combat while serving in other units, the unit as a whole did not. Nevertheless, the battalion’s contributions to combat operations—and to the proud tradition of military service by Black Canadians—cannot be understated. In January 1919, most of the men of No. 2 Construction Battalion returned to Canada, and the battalion was officially disbanded in September 1920.
No. 2 Construction Battalion recruited men from all over Canada. Many of its members were from Nova Scotia, others hailed from the United States and the British West Indies. All but one of the unit’s officers were white: its chaplain, Rev. Dr. W. Andrew White, held the rank of captain and was one of the few Black officers in the Canadian military during the war.
Not all Black Canadians were turned away from recruiting offices during the First World War. No. 2 Construction Battalion (also known as the Black Battalion) was the largest of two all-Black units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), other Black Canadians in smaller numbers served in other units. Black Canadians also participated in all of Canada’s major battles in the First World War, including Ypres, Vimy Ridge, Hill 70, Passchendaele and the 100 Days Campaign.
On July 9, 2022, the Government of Canada issued a formal apology for the racism and discrimination endured by members of No. 2 Construction Battalion.
Designed by Canadian artist Kwame Delfish, the coin’s reverse honours the legacy of No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), and its contributions to Canada’s war efforts during the First World War. At the centre of the design is a member of Canada’s largest all-Black battalion-sized military unit, and an enlarged view of No. 2 Construction Battalion cap badge appears to the left of him. Behind the Black soldier and to the right, members of the battalion are shown marching in a parade prior to deployment in March 1917. On the other side, the landscape represents the Jura region of France, where the battalion assisted with logging and lumber operations, and with building a railroad that, on this coin, symbolizes the journey and hardships endured by Black Canadian soldiers more than a century ago. The obverse features a maple leaf pattern and the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II by Susanna Blunt. The obverse also bears a special marking that includes four pearls symbolizing the four effigies that have graced Canadian coins and the double date of her reign.
Item Number: 206208
Composition: 99.99% pure silver
Weight: 31.39 g
Diameter: 38 m
Face Value: $20
Artist: Kwame Delfish (reverse), Susanna Blunt (obverse)
• Celebrate Black History! The fifth release in the Royal Canadian Mint's Celebrating Black History series, which celebrates the achievements of Black Canadians and highlights the struggles that are an important part of Canada’s story.
• Pride and Perseverance! The 2023 instalment brings to light the often-overlooked story of No. 2 Construction Battalion and its contributions to Canada’s war efforts in the First World War.
• A Military Theme! This is the first coin to highlight Black military history in Canada and the experiences of Black Canadian soldiers. It’s a timely theme: in July 2022, the Government of Canada issued an apology for the historic racism endured by members of No. 2 Construction Battalion.
• The focus is on history! To keep the focus on those who persevered in their efforts to serve, and as an expression of a nation’s gratitude for their service and sacrifices, the only word engraved on the coin’s reverse is “CANADA”.
• Maple Leaf pattern! Like the 2021 The Black Loyalist coin and 2022's The Underground Railroad the 2023 issue features a symbol of Canada on its obverse, where the repeating maple leaf fills the field.
&bull: Pure silver! Crafted in 99.99% pure silver.
The coin is encapsulated and presented in a black Royal Canadian Mint-branded clamshell with a black beauty box.