The story of one of the last living Black Canadian WWII veterans

Alvie Burden

Alvie Burden is one of the last surviving Black Canadian veterans who served in the Second World War.

Alvie’s youngest son Kelly sat beside his father in Armstrong, B.C., where Alvie now lives, prompting some of Alvie’s stories and filling in some blanks.

“Don’t ever go back to war, isn’t that what you said before?” Kelly said.

Alvie chuckled. “Yeah. People [have] to learn to get along.”

Alvie was living in B.C. when he joined the Canadian military at 19 years old, but since he was born in Tisdale, Sask., in 1922, he was sent off to the Prairies to join the Saskatoon Light Infantry division as a dispatch rider.

Alvie was reunited this June with one of his closest friends from the war, Art McKim.

“I met him in Montreal, where we went on the boat to England and then to Sicily,” Alvie said.

The two were in Quebec to train on machine guns. Alvie said they’d go downtown and meet French girls on their off time. He spent a lot of time in England with McKim on guard duty, according to Kelly.

Alvie Burden and Art McKim

Both friends ended up meeting girlfriends in Paisley, Scotland.

“We met them on the street,” Alvie said.

“You were going to marry one weren’t you?” Kelly asked him.


Kelly recounted how Alvie gave the woman a ring, but then later changed his mind. She gave the ring back, and it later ended up on the finger of Kelly’s mother.

Alvie and McKim were waiting for a ferry in Sicily when they started “messing around” with gunpowder that had been left on the beach.

“The damn stuff went up in smoke,” Alvie said. “Art, he had his eyes all full of sand.”

McKim was temporarily blinded. Alvie had to lead him out of the area and help him to the hospital. It was the last time the men saw each other for decades.

Alvie spent years looking for McKim, even driving to where he thought Art was from.

They were finally able to track him down.

“It was a pretty big deal,” Alvie said.

They didn’t find out until they reunited that McKim’s half-brother lived within an hour drive of Alvie, and his relatives played hockey with Kelly’s son.

Alvie was driving over a ridge when an enemy tank shell landed behind him and sent him flying into the air.

According to Kelly, an allied tank straddled him to protect him as soldiers pulled him to safety.

He ended up with shrapnel in his head and wrists, and the embedded lead continued to fester.

Despite that, Alvie returned and started carrying machine guns on a half-track as the driver of a Bren gun carrier.