Sailors in the RCN
the Colour Barrier
until and during the Second World War, the RCN would not recruit Black
men to serve in their 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.
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)
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.
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
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.
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."
False Sense of Equality: The Black Canadian Experience of the Second World War
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 on 24 July 1992.
broke the colour barrier for 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.
Piercey became the first Black man to join the RCN. It is not known if he
was a Canadian Citizen. As a result, this writer could not
determine if he was the first Black Canadian to join the RCN.
Click on the
photo on the left to view a larger image
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. Gordon Crossed the Bar 22 Nov 2007 in the province of Quebec.
is believed the Gordon Munro was the first Black man from Nova Scotia to join
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.
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.
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.
Click on the photo on the left
to view a larger image
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