Francis Pegahmagabow, unsung WW I hero, to get overdue recognition
Life-size bronze statue to be installed in Parry Sound, Ont.
The most decorated First Nations soldier in the history of the Canadian military will get the recognition he never received in his lifetime.
A life-size bronze statue of Francis Pegahmagabow, a little known hero of the First World War, will be erected in Parry Sound, Ont., in the spring of 2016.
The initiative, announced today in Parry Sound, is supported by members of Pegahmagabow’s family and Wasauksing First Nation, along with the Town of Parry Sound, author Joseph Boyden and sculptor Tyler Fauvelle.
"It was very momentous for me, to know that this is going to happen. It’s something we can go to in this area and share with other people as well," said Pegahmagabow’s granddaughter, Theresa McInnes, about the announcement.
Wasauksing First Nation, where McInnes serves on band council, is a 15-minute drive from Parry Sound. McInnes says that even though the sculpture isn’t up yet, the support from town council, and the publicity the project has received, has already created more awareness of her grandfather’s legacy in the region.
WW I hero faced poverty and persecution
As a sniper in the First World War, Pegahmagabow was deadly accurate, and although difficult to substantiate, he was credited with 378 kills, as well as the capture of 300 prisoners. The Ojibway from the Wasauksing First Nation returned a hero, but it wouldn’t last.
"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," said Adrian Hayes, the author of the definitive biography of Pegahmagabow.
Despite that, Pegahmagabow was chief of his band, always sending letters to Ottawa — even to the prime minister — demanding better treatment. Eventually he helped to form some of the first national native-rights movements in Canada.The war hero faced poverty and persecution, usually at the hands of Indian agents who controlled even his pension and seemed to block every attempt he made to get ahead.
In 2006, over 80 years after he served, the military finally decided to recognize him, erecting a monument at CFB Borden and, with full military honours, naming the building of the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol group after him.
In Parry Sound, In addition to the bronze sculpture, there are plans to produce an educational video about Pegahmagabow and Aboriginal Peoples’ military service to Canada.
"I know his last surviving son and daughter would be proud, if they were still here today, because they worked so hard for something like this to happen," McInnes said.
With files from Reg Sherren