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Celebrating Black Canadian History

February 19th, 2019

Film still from Honour Before Glory
Anthony Sherwood, Honour Before Glory, (film still), 2001, colour, sound.

Do you know about Canada’s all-Black military battalion? If you don’t, you’re not alone. The story is one that is sometimes overlooked in history class, but thanks to Canadian actor and documentary filmmaker Anthony Sherwood, it can be seen in the exhibition Photography: First World War, 1914 – 1918 (Part II), on view now on Level 1 in the Edmond G. Odette Family Gallery (Gallery 128) and the Robert & Cheryl McEwen Gallery (Gallery 129).

Sherwood was moved by the stories he read in his great uncle’s war diary. His great-uncle, Captain Reverend William White, was part of the segregated Black unit known as the No. 2 Construction Battalion the only Black chaplain in the entire British Armed Forces during the First World War.

Sherwood collected photographs of the Battalion, which he later loaned to the AGO, as he prepared to make his docudrama, Honour Before Glory. We spoke to him about his filmmaking journey.

Photo of Captain William Andrew White
Unknown. Captain William Andrew White in uniform, around 1916. Inkjet or laser print (reproduction), mounted, 10.2 x 6.4 cm print 13.4 x 8.8 cm mounted. From the Collection of Anthony Sherwood.  EXH.152328

AGO: What inspired you to create this film?

Sherwood: There were many things I read in my great uncle’s war diary that I never knew. He described in vivid detail what happened to the Black soldiers in his unit while they were serving in France. After reading it, I knew I had to make the film.

AGO: How did you acquire the No. 2 Construction Battalion photographs?

Sherwood: While researching the film, I interviewed families who had ancestors in the No. 2 Construction Battalion. A few families donated their photographs for the project and I’m extremely grateful for their trust and generosity.

AGO: Why do you think it’s important for people to learn about this moment in Canadian history?

Sherwood: Most Canadians are unaware that African-Canadians fought, served and died for their country in WWI. Our country was built with the hands of many different colours and this is an important part of Canadian history. It’s particularly important for young Black students to know that their ancestors played a significant role in fighting for their country in WWI. It gives them a sense of pride and belonging.

AGO: Why do you believe people don’t know more about this part of Canadian history?

Sherwood: When the WWI started, Black men tried to enlist but were rejected simply because of the colour of their skin. When they were finally accepted, they encountered cruel racism in the Canadian army. The Canadian government was embarrassed by this part of history and tried to sweep it under the rug or simply didn’t publicize it. History books also left out this part of Canadian history, so students didn’t have the opportunity to learn about it until now.

See the full story at our free screening of Honour Before Glory in Jackman Hall, February 27 at 7 pm. The film is screened in association with the exhibition Photography: First World War, 1914 – 1918 (Part II), on display until April 14 and included with General Admission.

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