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Stepping into the boots of Black Canadians in uniform - Learning stations

Activity description

In this 90-minute activity, students will work in groups to research Black Canadian Veterans. They will create a visual time line of these Veterans’ military service. Students will research online resources.


To increase youth awareness of some of the challenges Black Canadians have had to overcome to serve in the Canadian military. Students will develop an understanding of some of the contributions of Black Canadians in uniform over the years.


Through this activity, youth will develop an understanding and awareness of:

  • the time line of Black Canadian service across Canada’s military history;
  • the stories and experiences of Black Canadian service members and their contributions to Canada’s military;
  • some of the struggles Black Canadians have faced during their service; and
  • the importance of remembering the sacrifices and achievements of Black Canadians who served and died.

Target audience

This activity is suitable for ages 12-18.

Anticipated time frame

Approximately 90 minutes


Note: Research packets are numbered in chronological order based on when the person served. If you have fewer than ten groups, we suggest making a selection that represents the entire time span. This activity can also be done as an individual research assignment.

Background discussion

There is a saying that you can never really understand a person until you consider things from their point of view and “spend a day in their shoes.”

Bring this idea to life with your students! Invite them to imagine the lives of some of the thousands of Black Canadians who have served in Canada’s military. Some of them returned home to trade their combat boots for civilian shoes. Others died—and never had a chance to return home at all.

Use the Black Canadians in uniform web feature as a reference. Explain to students that many young Black Canadians eager to serve their country have encountered obstacles to enlisting. They also faced obstacles during their time in uniform. For example, many Black Canadians were not permitted to serve in combat roles during the First World War. They were officially barred from joining the Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force in the opening years of the Second World War. In both cases, some determined individuals still found ways to join. Others served in different ways.

Explain to students they will learn about the lives and experiences of some Black Canadians who have served in the military since the 19th century.

*Note: This lesson explores issues of racism that may be difficult for some students. Please adjust questions and discussions according to the needs of your classroom. Consult your provincial or territorial anti-racism, equity and citizenship curriculum for broader support in exploring this subject.

Marching through time research and presentations

Divide the youth into research groups. Explain that in their groups, they will learn about one specific Black Canadian who served in uniform. Each group can start researching the websites provided in their research packet and the Black Canadians in uniform image gallery. They can also expand to other sources as time permits.

Once they’ve finished their research on a Black Canadian Veteran, they will prepare a poster or digital presentation. Information on what to include is outlined in the research packet. Teamwork is essential to ensure success.

After the students complete their posters/digital presentations, groups can take 3-5 minutes each to present their research stories to the rest of the class. If they handmade posters, create a time line in the classroom! You can hang them up in chronological order based on the wars or conflicts in which each person served.

Group discussion

Following the presentations, lead a group discussion about what students have learned. Questions you might explore include:

  • Imagine you were in the shoes of the Black Canadians who wanted to volunteer for military service. But, you were told they weren’t allowed to enlist or serve in certain roles. How would it make you feel?
  • Can you think of a time when you faced discrimination or other challenges? Or a time you were prevented from taking part in an activity? [Try to relate the stories they researched to things they may have experienced or witnessed in their own lives.]
  • The discriminatory policies we learned about today no longer officially exist in the military. Inequities remain and there is always work to be done to remove barriers. How do you feel experiences of Black Canadians in the military have changed over the years? How are they similar to, or different from, the experiences of Black Canadians within society?
  • How can we remember and honour the sacrifices and achievements of Black Canadians who have served in Canada’s miliary?

Extension activity: Exploring anti-racism

Watch a Department of National Defence video about Black History Month. It also explains the long tradition of Black Canadian military service and recent efforts to support anti-racism in the military. This video features information and stories about Black Veterans other than those the students have already researched. It also provides a jumping off point for deeper discussion of the importance of anti-racism efforts in Canadian society.

Encourage students to think about Black service members experiences they learned about in class. Ask them to connect those experiences with their own observations or lived experiences. Questions you might explore include:

  • What is the difference between not being racist and being anti-racist?
  • What is the difference between being an ally and being anti-racist? Learn more at the Department of National Defence website
  • What are examples of racism we learned about in our research today?
  • What are areas in Canadian society or our own communities where change is still needed?
  • What power do we have to create change today? In our school? In our community? In Canada as a whole?

Consult your provincial or territorial anti-racism, equity and citizenship curriculum for more discussion ideas. You may also find broader support in exploring this subject.

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