Researcher Kathy Grant keeps Black Canadian war stories alive

Kathy Grant

Kathy Grant founded the website and Facebook page Black Canadian Veterans Stories as part of a promise to her father, a Second World War veteran, to honour the contributions of Canada’s Black soldiers.

Since then, dozens of stories from Black veterans of various wars have been posted online.

Grant said she’s been in situations where Black Canadians have been conflicted on Remembrance Day, asking what they had to celebrate. She would show them stories and pictures.

“We served,” Grant said. “By putting these examples and showing we served … [even] after the war, it humanizes the soldiers by showing examples of us and not only showing examples of victims of racism.”

Grant said there were about 1,300 Black Canadians who either enlisted or were conscripted to the military in the First World War, but in the early stages many were turned away by the commanding officer, who had the final say.

“There were hundreds that were turned away because of the commanding officer, but not because of policy,” she said.

Things changed in the Second World War, and while some commanders still turned away applicants, Black Canadians joined the military much more easily.

“The majority of Black World War II veterans that I’ve interviewed indicated the racism … wasn’t rampant, it was the odd occasion,” she said.

“The racism that they would experience would be when they returned home from overseas, or also when they were stationed in certain towns during training, when they would go into bars or dancing or whatever.”

She said her father was kicked out of a bar in Edmonton because of his skin colour, even though he was in uniform.

Grant believes Alvie Burden is among fewer than five living Black Canadian Second World War veterans in the country.

While Alvie’s uncle, Roy Burden, was in a segregated unit in the United States, Alvie said that during his time in the military, from 1941 until the end of the war in 1945, he didn’t face race-related issues despite being the only Black Canadian in his company.

It was “all right, no problems,” he said.