National Treasure #57: Francis Pegahmagabow

In honour of Veterans’ Week,
this week’s national treasures are all veterans.
In honour of Aboriginal Veterans’ Day, tomorrow,
this series starts with a First Nations veteran.

A member of Wasauksing First Nation, Francis Pegahmagabow was Anishinaabe (Ojibwa). Enlisting in September 1914 at a time when the Government was excluding many Aboriginals from serving, he became the most-decorated First Nations soldier in the history of the Canadian military. He was one of only 39 people in the Canadian Expeditionary Force to receive the Military Medal and two bars for valour.

As a sniper, he was deadly accurate, and although difficult to substantiate, he was credited with 378 kills, as well as the capture of 300 prisoners.

His first military medal came in 1916, for facing enemy fire repeatedly to dispatch critical messages. There would be another at Passchendaele in 1917 and yet another for climbing out of a trench under gunfire to resupply ammunition.

He fought for the entire war, being repatriated in 1919. It wasn’t the sort of homecoming he had a right to expect.

“When he was in uniform he was considered an equal…by what he could do. When he came back, he just went back to being an Indian. Indians at that time were not even Canadian citizens. They were treated like children and the Indian agents wanted him to basically sit back and shut up and not say anything.” – Adrian Hayes, biographer

On National Aboriginal Day, a statue to honour him was unveiled in Parry Sound.

He wasn’t a storybook hero. There are stories about his confrontational leadership style. He might have suffered from PTSD.

He was just a Canadian hero before he was allowed to be a Canadian citizen.

He died at age 61, quite possibly from lung damage caused by his exposure to chlorine gas at the Second Battle of Ypres.


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