When Canada entered World War II, officials again moved to bar Black men from any involvement. The latter protested and eventually secured the right to enlist. This time they were not segregated into a special construction unit, but were allowed to fight alongside white soldiers. Men from Jamaica and other Caribbean countries also enlisted in the Canadian armed forces. After the war, these soldiers were able to apply for landed immigrant status.

Ironically, it was Canada’s entry into WWII that first opened the doors of opportunity – if only just a crack – for Canadian women and minorities. Blacks, who had been shut out of industry after industry for decades, began to take the positions left behind by servicemen who fought overseas.
When Canada entered World War II, officials again moved to bar Black men from any involvement. The latter protested and eventually secured the right to enlist. This time they were not segregated into a special construction unit, but were allowed to fight alongside white soldiers. Men from Jamaica and other Caribbean countries also enlisted in the Canadian armed forces. After the war, these soldiers were able to apply for landed immigrant status.

Ironically, it was Canada’s entry into WWII that first opened the doors of opportunity – if only just a crack – for Canadian women and minorities. Blacks, who had been shut out of industry after industry for decades, began to take the positions left behind by servicemen who fought overseas.

© 2007 Workers Arts and Heritage Centre - All Rights Reserved

Montreal's Central Station

Passengers boarding a train at Montreal's Central station, Montreal, Canada, 1944.

Canada Science and Technology Museum/CN Collection

© Canada Science and Technology Museum


Alvin Duncan

One of two Black Canadian men in the Radar Division, a highly secret operation of the Allied Forces during WWII, northern Ireland c. 1945.

Alvin Duncan Heritage Collection

© Alvin Duncan Heritage Collection


Certificate of Gratitude

As a member of the secret Radar Division of the British armed forces, Alvin Duncan received this certificate of gratitude for services rendered, signed by the British Secretary of State for Air in 1946.

Alvin Duncan Heritage Collection

© Alvin Duncan Heritage Collection


Jessie and Bethune Binga

Jessie and Bethune Binga of Chatham served in the army in Europe during World War II. Bethune received several medals for valour.

Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society

© Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society


Douglas Melford Johnson

Douglas Melford Johnson, from Dresden, Ontario, and dog Shep, Black Watch of Canada (Royal Highland Regiment), London England about 1943. After the war, Douglas Johnson returned to raise a family and work on the ships on the Great Lakes.

Bonita Johnson-de Matteis Collection, The Grey Roots Archival Collection

© The Grey Roots Archival Collection, Owen Sound, Ontario


Jim Braithwaite

On furlough in New York City, 1944, Jim Braithwaite (far right) with Claire Whiley, an expatriate Canadian hairdresser and her boyfriend. Braithwaite served in the Royal Canadian Air Force after his brother Daniel volunteered for the air force and was denied entry. After protesting this situation, officials opened up the Air Force to Blacks.

Jim Braithwaite

© Jim Braithwaite


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • explain how Canada’s identity has been and continues to be shaped by its global participation;
  • comment on the political and social context of African Canadians between 1900 and World War II;
  • discuss civil rights of African Canadians from 1960 to now.

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