Kevin Junor – Champion for the ‘Black Battalion’
Kevin Junor is on a mission is to raise awareness of the No. 2 Construction Battalion, the Black World War I soldiers who served in a segregated unit.
In 1980, when 17-year-old Kevin Junor of Scarborough first met with a recruiter from the Toronto Scottish Regiment to discuss signing up for the army reserves, he had only one stipulation: “As long as I don’t have to wear no skirt.” Forty-three years later, on the eve of his November 2023 retirement from the military, he quips, “You know what? They lied.”
Now a Bolton resident, this diversity and anti-racism activist is a leading champion of the long-overdue recognition of the No. 2 Construction Battalion, a unit created to segregate Black soldiers from others who served in the First World War.
Born in England, Kevin moved to Jamaica as an infant. Looking for a better life, his single-parent mom then immigrated to Canada, leaving Kevin with his grandparents. He says, “It was a practice for West Indian kids to be with their grandmother. It also speaks to a parent trying to keep a relationship with their kids from far away.”
When Kevin was 10, his grandmother died, and he came to live with his mother in Canada. By then the two had been apart for nearly half his life, so in addition to adapting to a new country, he also had to learn to live with, as he says, “a person I didn’t know.”
After graduating from high school, Kevin studied civil engineering at Seneca College. Then came a long professional career with the Ontario public service, starting at the Ministry of Transportation, then working in several other departments, and finally ending up in Correctional Services. In 2019 he retired as deputy superintendent of administration at the Ontario Correctional Institute in Brampton.
In his parallel career as an armed forces reservist, Kevin rose through the ranks from private to his current rank of captain. He was the Toronto Scottish Regiment’s first Black regimental sergeant major and served two tours of duty, in Sierra Leone and Jordan. Among the many honours he earned for his service is membership in the Order of Military Merit, awarded for conspicuous merit and exceptional service.
Over the years, Kevin participated in many initiatives involving diversity, equity and inclusion, both in his work with the province and the military. Through that work, he learned the story of the No. 2 Construction Battalion. Formed in 1916, the unit, made up of mostly Black volunteers, wasn’t welcome to fight alongside other Canadian soldiers. Kevin says, “They were told, ‘It’s a white man’s war. You’re not welcome.’”
Though most battalion members came from Nova Scotia, the unit also included men from across Canada, as well as the United States and the Caribbean. They were gathered into a segregated unit and sent overseas, where they provided critical non-combat construction and maintenance support. While their contributions were invaluable, they faced systemic racism throughout the war. And at its conclusion, the unit was disbanded without fanfare.
Setting out to ensure the role these men played in shaping Canada was recognized, Kevin advocated on several fronts, including as a member of the committee that advised the federal government on crafting an apology to the descendants and relatives of the Black soldiers.
Finally, in July 2022, he was master of ceremonies at an event in Pictou, Nova Scotia, to rededicate the official plaque that commemorates the No. 2 Construction Battalion. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau subsequently delivered a formal apology: “For the blatant anti-Black hate and systemic racism that denied these men dignity in life and in death, we are sorry.”
Though Kevin is retiring from his dual careers, and plans to spend some time in his new hot tub, don’t expect him to slow down. He’s in demand on the public speaking circuit, very active in his church and has a keen interest in politics. He encourages others to see his full life as a jumping-off point: “Allow my accomplishments to be your minimum standard.”