Dr. Hyacinth Simpson is an associate professor in the Department of English at Ryerson University where she specializes in Caribbean, Caribbean diaspora and Black Canadian literature and cultures. Her writings on Caribbean and Black Canadian fiction, poetry, films and theatrical works have been published in a variety of scholarly and popular outlets.
Professor Simpson spent a decade as the Editor-in-Chief of a scholarly journal devoted to works by and about Caribbean women in the region and its diasporas. A few years ago, she discovered a passion for historical research, and is now happily engaged in uncovering and sharing stories about the contributions of Black Caribbean and Black Canadian servicemen during the Great War.
In Living Color: Black Servicemen in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1918
While there is growing public awareness of the WW1 service of Black men in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), much of that awareness is limited to emerging histories of the No. 2 Construction Battalion. The recent announcement in March 2021 that the Canadian government plans to formally apologize for the treatment that members of the No. 2 endured while serving has increased awareness of the Battalion’s existence. It has also highlighted the lack of information available to the public regarding the WW1 service of Black men in other CEF units than the No. 2.
A number of the Black men who served in other CEF units hailed from small communities and saw action alongside their white counterparts, which belies oft-repeated claims that these communities had few or no Black members in the first half of the twentieth century. Or that Black men served only as laborers at the front. Also, as more war time records are digitized and become more widely available, researchers are recognizing that revising existing accounts of unit histories to properly acknowledge the contributions of Black servicemen results in a more layered and accurate accounting of the CEF: its operations, management, achievements, and failings.
By focusing on the wartime service of several Black CEF enlistees from small communities in Atlantic Canada, Dr. Simpson will provide a critical overview of the war years that demonstrates the veracity and salience of the above arguments.