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Able Seaman William Hall (c.1829 - 27 August 1904) is the only Canadian to have been conferred the decoration of the Victoria Cross with a 'naval' blue ribbon instead of red for army personnel. Since 1856, army recipients have received their Victoria Cross with a red (crimson) ribbon, while naval recipients, until 1918, received their decoration mounted with a dark blue ribbon. He is also the first Nova Scotian and the First Man of Colour to earn the Empire's highest award "For Valour". Hall, as Captain of the Foretop of H.M.S. Shannon, as well as his Gunnery Officer were recognized "for their gallant conduct at a 24-Pounder Gun, brought up to the angle of the Shah Nujjuff, at Lucknow, on the 16th of November, 1857", during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Other than the formal parade during which he received his decoration at Queenstown Harbour, Ireland, in 1859, he remained largely unnoticed until four decades later. His final public recognition was in October 1901 when he was presented to Prince George, Duke of Cornwall and York (later George V) while in Halifax during a visit to Canada. Hall died three years later and was buried without honours in an unmarked grave at Lockhartville, Nova Scotia. In 1937, the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Services League launched a local campaign to have him recognized and eight years later, his remains were re-interred in the grounds of the Hantsport Baptist Church. As shown in the photograph, a memorial cairn was erected in 1947 to mark his last resting place.
While Hall received little acknowledgment during his lifetime, his memory continues to be perpetuated. This includes the re-naming of a local Legion branch in his honour; a gymnasium and memorial plaque in Cornwallis (Nova Scotia); the DaCosta-Hall Educational Program for Black students in Montréal (Québec); and the annual gun run of the International Tattoo in Halifax (Nova Scotia). Also, on 1 February 2010, as part of the kick-off for Black History Month, Canada Post issued a commemorative stamp in his tribute and in October of that same year, the Government of Canada recognized him as a 'person of national historic significance'.
On 26 June 2015, the Government also announced that an Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS) would be named in his honour. Nearly six years later, on 17 February 2021, a keel-laying ceremony was held at Irving Shipbuilding's Halifax Shipyard for the occasion. "The keel laying is a naval tradition that, in modern times, involves welding a coin into a large piece of the ship's frame – the gesture is meant to provide good luck and safety to the ship and those who will eventually crew it. For the future HMCS William Hall, responsibility for laying the coin was shared between Rear-Admiral Brian Santarpia, Commander Maritime Forces Atlantic and Joint Task Force Atlantic, and Irving Shipbuilding President Tyrell Young, a participant in the Pathways to Shipbuilding program for African Nova Scotians, and Macey Rolfe, who is enrolled in a similar program aimed at recruiting women to the trades. The coin itself is a limited edition Silver Dollar of the Royal Canadian Mint, minted to mark the 150th anniversary of the Victoria Cross in 2006. A second coin of this mintage will eventually be presented to the Commanding Officer of the ship, to be displayed onboard for the life of the future HMCS Williams Hall's service."
As is often the case, the receipt of one significant award acts as a catalyst that brings about further recognition. In Hall's case, although delayed, he received prolific recognition in both tangible and intangible forms and he serves as a model of what someone can accomplish, regardless of race, religion or creed.
On this day, 27 August 2022, we commemorate the 118th anniversary of the death of William Hall, V.C.
André M. Levesque