Shovels Not Rifles is the story of Will, a young Black man from a small Nova Scotia town who enlists and goes to war in the historical Black Battalion in 1916.
When Coloured men are finally allowed to enlist in the Canadian military, Will Coleman has a chance to make his late father proud, see the world and earn enough money to take care of his mother. Immediately after joining the No. 2 Construction Battalion, he learns that the members of Canada’s only all-Black battalion are not allowed to fight on the front lines. Instead, they are assigned the same forestry work they were doing at home. Not only that, Will is the target of racism and discrimination by superiors and many fellow soldiers who refuse to accept a “checkerboard army”.
Alongside his fellow soldiers in the No. 2 Construction Battalion, Will slowly faces the harsh realities of the war -- and the country he wanted to fight for.