Kwame Delfish: Designer of Black Heroes of WWI coin
The Black History Month coin issued last year was also a Delfish design
By Stephen Weir
Kwami Delfish is the man of the hour. So much in demand that the Caribbean Camera pulled a sneaker on the main media players in the country lining up to interview him – we called his father, community volunteer Eric Delfish, to help us jump the queue. It worked!
Earlier this week the Royal Canadian Mint released a limited edition pure silver $20 coin to honour the Black Canadian volunteers of the remarkable WW1 construction battalion. And the artist who created this coin for the Mint? Toronto’s Kwami Delfish (and this is the third coin he has created for the country!)
In speaking to the Caribbean Camera, Delfish admitted that it has been busy busy busy since the coin was unveiled at an Ontario Black History Society event on the weekend. “I have a long list of interview calls to make since Sunday night.”
The significance of the coin, and the reason for media attention is two-fold. The beauty of the coin is thanks to the talent of Delfish, the first Black artist to create an official coin for Canada. And the second? The coin issued at the start of Black History Month is the first time that anti-Black racism in the country during World War 1 is addressed on its currency.
“At the outbreak of the First World War, many Black men felt the call to serve their country. Many were rejected due to anti-Black racism. After years of lobbying, No. 2 Construction Battalion was authorized in 1916,” said Russell Grosse, Executive Director of the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia.
“These brave men had to fight for the right to serve, they provided valuable logistical support to the frontlines. This coin commemorates the remarkable legacy of No. 2 and builds on the formal Apology that was given by the Government of Canada this past summer to ensure that this important history is remembered.”
Creating a new coin is more than drawing a picture. “There is so much research that had to be done about the story (that is featured on the coin),” explained Delfish. He met many times with the Mint in the process of reviewing his copious research notes.
Delfish’s design is on one side of the coin (the Queen is on the other) features a soldier of No. 2 Construction Battalion, standing at attention between two railroad tracks. His battalion’s cap badge is prominently displayed on his right, adjacent to a landscape of France’s Jura region, where the battalion assisted with logging and building a railroad. To his left, you see comrades marching in a parade prior to their 1917 deployment to Europe.
Only 5,000 will be minted. The coin is legal tender and can be used to buy things, but it is unlikely you will get a Kwami coin in your change at the store. Collectors are already snapping up the $20 coin, at $99.95 a pop from the Mint.
“I wish I could get a discount for you Steve, but I can’t even get one for myself.”
Delfish will be in demand for the whole month. Not just for the coin but other work as well!
When the Caribbean Camera called, the artist was wrapping up two paintings to send over to Scarborough’s Centenary Hospital to hang in their wards. As well he is one of four Black Torontonians to be featured on the 2023 Legacy Poster which now hangs in many city schools during BHM. The annual poster (except during Covid) is created by African Canadian artist Robert. Featured with Kwame are Josephare Debbie Douglas, Karen Hudson and Warren Salmon.