Black Sailors in the RCN


Breaking the Colour Barrier



Who was the the first Black man to join the RCN, RNCVR, RCNVR or RCNR? That will likely be a tough question to answer.


The crew photo below for HMCS PATRIOT, received from the Naval Museum of Halifax, has one crew member that appears to be black. PATRIOT was in service in the RCN from 1920 to 1929. While initially stationed in Esquimalt - she transferred to Halifax in 1921. The sailor in question, circled in red, is wearing an RCNVR cap tally.  The CO centre of the front row is Lt George Clarence Jones - this puts the photo between 03 Sep 1922 and 23 Aug 1923.  The name of this sailor is unknown.


The sailor in question is indicated by a red circle

Click on the above photo to view a larger image



At some point after the above photo of the crew of HMCS PATRIOT was taken .... up until and during the Second World War, the RCN would not recruit Black men to serve in its ranks. The official reason was that when majority and minority groups come together, the minority group would suffer. When Black men tried to join the Navy, they were refused and directed to join the Army.  This worked well for the RCN until 1942 when a young man named Piercey Augustus Haynes, a British subject of British Guyana descent, went to the recruiting office in Winnipeg to join the Navy.


The  following is a excerpt from parliamentary records of 10 Mar 1999 from a statement given in the house by Hon. Calvin Woodrow Ruck (Enlistment into Royal Canadian Navy - The Black Experience-Inquiry)


"An incident took place in Winnipeg, Manitoba, involving a young black man named Piercey Haynes. He had come to Canada, specifically to Winnipeg, many years earlier with his parents, from British Guiana. He was well known and well thought of in Winnipeg. In high school, he was a boxer, and in 1942 he decided he wanted to go into the navy, for the simple reason that he saw many of his friends and former schoolmates flocking into the navy. For some reason, many people in Western Canada chose the navy as the service they wanted to join. Some people say that the reason for this is that westerners were freshwater sailors and they wanted to find out what this saltwater business was all about.


Piercey Haynes, along with many others, went to the recruiting station. He walked in and spoke to the officer in charge, a captain in rank, who refused to accept him into the navy and suggested he join the army. Piercey Haynes replied that, if he was not good enough for the navy, he was not good enough for the army. He continued his protests by writing a letter to the Naval Secretary, the late Honourable Angus L. Macdonald, a fellow Nova Scotian and fellow Cape Bretonner. Mr. Macdonald got back to him by mail and indicated to him that that clause in the Naval Service Act was put there in the best interests of minority persons. He indicated that long research had proven that, when a minority group and a majority group come together, the minority group suffers.


Piercey Haynes did not accept that line of reasoning. He was going into the navy. There would be officers there to make sure all members of the navy were treated equally. He persisted and continued to write letters, and the Naval Council met on several occasions in an attempt to deal with the issue. Finally, they decided to revise the Naval Service Act by removing that clause and opening the navy to Canadians of good health, regardless of race, colour or creed. The only people who could not get in at that point in time were, of course, females. That has changed now to some degree.


Piercey Haynes made further contact with Angus L. Macdonald, who instructed him to go back to the naval station. He returned armed with a letter from Mr. Macdonald. The captain in charge, the same gentleman, refused even to look at the letter. That was insubordination. Shortly thereafter, that captain was removed from that post and Piercey Haynes went into the navy. He spent four or five years of wartime service in the navy. For some reason, he never went to sea. He spent considerable time in Halifax, where he was a musician, and he spent time entertaining other servicemen. By the time the war ended, four or five other blacks had entered the Royal Canadian Navy."


While Piercey succeed in joining the RCNVR, he did not get to serve in a warship.  Petty Officer Haynes worked at a shipwright, but due to his musical talent he entertained troops in Halifax and staged musical shows.  After the war Piercey worked for CPR as a sleeping car porter for 20 years.  During this time, in 1952, the carpentry shop attached to the Haynes family home in Winnipeg was converted into a restaurant named Haynes Chicken Shack.  This family restaurant became a Winnipeg nightlife hotspot where Piercey regularly performed. Over the years, musicians of the likes of Billy Daniels, Oscar Peterson and Harry Belafonte visited when they were in town.  In retirement Piercey worked at the restaurant as a greeter till a week before his death.


Piercey Crossed the Bar on 24 July 1992.


Based on the HMCS PATRIOT crew photo, Piercey was not the first Black man to join the Canadian Navy.  However he was responsible for the official change in the recruiting policies of the RCN.  It is noted in the parliamentary record above that 4 or 5 other Black men also joined after Piercey, but no additional info could be found on them.


Click on the photo on the left to view a larger image


Additional reading:  A False Sense of Equality: The Black Canadian Experience of the Second World War



In 1948/49, a young Black fellow from Yarmouth, NS, Gordon Munro, joined the RCN as a Radar Plotter. In the March 1950 issue of the CROWSNEST magazine, he is listed as having completed his first trades course as a Radar Plotter. He served in HMCS QUEBEC in 1952-1953 as a LS.RP2. The last entry found for him is in the Oct 1956 issue of the CROWSNEST magazine as a P2RP2.  It is believed the Gordon Munro was the first Black man from Nova Scotia to join the RCN.


Gordon Crossed the Bar 22 Nov 2007 in the province of Quebec.



In 1953 Raymond Lawrence joined the RCN and had a career that spanned 32 years on 7 warships.  In 1974 he was promoted to CPO1 and became the first Black Cox'n on a Canadian warship when he was posted to HMCS ANNAPOLIS in 1976. On 14 Jun 1976, CPO1 Raymond Lawrence became the first Black man to be awarded the Order of Military Merit (M.M.M.). The investiture ceremony took place on 26 Nov 1976 at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. 


Raymond Crossed the Bar on 06 Mar 2021.



LSAW2 Robert Edward (Bob) Hesson of Startford, Ontario, was an Administrative Writer in the RCN having graduated from the 35th Administrative Writer's course at the Supply School, Esquimalt in 1955.  In May 1955 he won the Light-Heavyweight division at the  Dominion Amateur Boxing Championship that was held at Regina, Saskatchewan on 6-7 May 1955.  Click here to read the article from the June 1955 issue of the Crowsnest magazine.


Newspaper article:  55 Enter Olympics Ring Test - The Province, Vancouver, BC, 28 Apr 1952


Bob Crossed the Bar 28 Aug 2016





Chief Petty Officer First Class John Madison joined the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in 1953, at the age of 16, as a Radio Operator. By his retirement in 1992, he had distinguished himself by becoming the first Black Canadian to qualify in submarines and the second Black sailor in the RCN's history to earn the challenging qualification of Ship's Diver (in 1956). Over the course of his career, he would log 24 years of sea time. After joining the navy, John transferred to the cook branch in 1955. He was 1 of 4 selected to train as an Officer's Cook and served as Personal Chef to the Admiral of the East Coast Fleet. CPO1 Madison transferred to Portsmouth, UK on a 4-year submarine training program, qualifying in British Submarines (1964). He returned to Canada in 1967, where he became the first Black Canadian to qualify in Canadian Submarines. John was promoted to the rank of Chief Petty Officer first class in 1980. Later that year, he was appointed Staff Officer, Food Services for Maritime Command HQ; a position he held until his retirement in 1992. His history is our history.




Paul Anthony Smith was born 26 Aug 1967 in Lionel Town, Jamaica. He emigrated to Canada when he was six years old and grew up in North York, Ontario. He enrolled in the Naval Reserve in 1986, rose to the rank of petty officer second class and was commissioned in 1999. In 2014, Smith took command of HMCS Kingston, becoming the first Black officer to command a ship in the Royal Canadian Navy. On 02 Oct 2021, he became the first Black commanding officer of HMCS York, the largest naval reserve division in Canada.