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May. 20, 2022 | Friday
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Segregated black militia honoured with plaque at Fort George
Rosemary Sadlier OOnt, withWilma Morrison and Betty Disero, unveiling the plaque at Fort George Saturday. (Brittany Carter/Niagara Now)

Members of Canada’s black community received long overdue recognition Saturday with the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the role of segregated black militia units in Upper Canada.  

The group known as the Colored Corps is now celebrated with the plaque at Fort George and its members are lauded for their role at Queenston Heights during the War of 1812, serving during the 1837 Rebellion and helping to build Canada.

Rosemary Sadlier, an Order of Ontario recipient and founder of the Black Canadian Network, fought for years for public awareness of the historical significance of the Colored Corps, which served from 1812 to 1850.

In 1994, Sadlier said she was part of the provincial effort to commemorate the Colored Corps. From that effort, a plaque was erected at Queenston Heights. That was a start in bringing Canadian black history to light, but there was more work to be done, she said.

“I was disappointed in realizing that, even with that effort, we weren’t seeing much more in terms of the commemoration of blacks in the military.”

She said a stereotype exists about black people not having earned their right to consider themselves Canadians and feels it’s critical to change that through awareness and education.

“Sometimes that right is seen as having come about through their service in the military. And when you consider that people of African descent have been serving in the military since before it was even Canada, and most people don’t know that, it was very important to put this into play.”

The plaque serves as a reminder and as a catalyst to seek out more information about the history of black Canadians and their dedication to both Canada’s freedom and their own, Sadlier said.

“I think that whenever you have a plaque, it’s a little piece of history that is structured and tangible and accessible. It doesn’t tell the whole story, but what it can do is allow people to ask questions. And to wonder why they maybe didn’t learn about it in school.”

Sadlier said she would like to think people will come away from the plaque unveiling knowing there has been a positive, productive and purposeful black contribution.

“Not just in the GTA, not just in Toronto where it’s sort of assumed and expected, but everywhere in this country. Even if you don’t see it today, it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t there before, and it doesn’t mean that it won’t be there in the future.”

Her initial push for recognition and education stemmed from learning more about her own family’s background, she said.

“I was horrified when I was in my 20s to realize the extent to which my family was involved in the military, because that’s just not something I grew up being aware of, for many different reasons,” she said.

She learned that her family formed 60 per cent of the recruits to the Number Two Battalion, from New Brunswick.

“I was absolutely shocked. And, it’s my family,” she said, adding that her interest wasn’t just because of her family’s connection.

“If I don’t have it (the historical information), and it’s my family, what about the people who might not even begin to consider that (connection). I think it’s just really important to be mindful. And hopefully this helps to make people more mindful.”

NOTL Lord Mayor Betty Disero and St. Catharines MP Chris Bittle were among the dignitaries on hand for the ceremony.

Brock University president Gervan Fearon, who also was in attendance, said the black community in southern Ontario and across Canada play a significant role in the history of Canada.

“The unveiling of the plaque provides an opportunity for all Canadians to become aware of that history as well as to celebrate the outstanding country that we’ve all been a part of building,” Fearon said.