The Volunteer Military Company from Victoria, BC (photograph by Charles Gentile, courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-022626)
Image: Black soldiers have had a long history of defending Canada. The Volunteer Military Company from Victoria, BC, active between 1860 and 1864, served during the American Civil War (photograph by Charles Gentile, courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-022626).

What are the forgotten stories of African-Canadian history? There are several, and their absence has led to many misconceptions about the role of Black people in the development of Canada.

One fact is that the first African arrival took place over 400 years ago with interpreter Mathieu da Costa. Since that time, Black people have been constantly coming into Canada helping to build it. Another is the idea that Black people have not "paid their dues," have not served in any military defense of Canada, that Black people are not pulling their weight or taking the level of responsibility that they should as good citizens of Canada.

However, the reality is that African-Canadians have volunteered in every case for active duty, and persisted even when they were not wanted. In order to help defend Canada, separate Black units were created, the first one, on the initiative of African-Canadian Richard Pierpoint. Black people have consistently defended the interests of Canada, or the British controlled territory of Canada from the time of the American Revolutionary War through to the Mackenzie Rebellions and the present.

Whether they were born in Canada, or newcomers supporting the direction that Canada was taking, African-Canadians have been ongoing defenders of this nation, allowing us all to experience the freedoms that we have today.

Rosemary Sadlier

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