Pegahmagabow, Francis (Chief)

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Francis Pegahmagabow was the most highly decorated Aboriginal soldier in Canadian military history - winning the Military Medal with two bars. He was also one of the most effective snipers of the First World War, credited with killing upwards of 378 Germans and capturing 300 more.

Pegahmagabow, an Ojibwa, was a proud member of the Wasauksing First Nation. He was born on March 9th, 1891, near Parry Sound, Ontario. Orphaned at an early age, he was raised by the First Nation community. Prior to the war, Pegahmagabow worked on the lake boats as a marine fireman.

In the early days of the First World War, the Canadian government excluded Aboriginal Canadians from military service, but Pegahmagabow somehow managed to be one of the first to sign on with the 23rd Regiment (Northern Pioneers). He travelled to Europe in February 1915. He soon saw action, when that Spring he participated in the Second Battle of Ypres.- the first major battle fought by Canadian troops. It was during this battle that Germany made large-scale use of poison gas for the first time on the Western Front. It was a horrific battle, with loss of life in the tens of thousands, but it was where Pegahmagabow began to establish himself as a fearless sniper and a scout.

During the Battle of the Somme the following year, Pegahmagabow was awarded the Military Medal for his efforts in carrying messages along the lines while repeatedly facing enemy fire. On November 6th and 7th, 1917, Pegahmagabow, by now promoted to the rank of corporal, earned a Bar to his Military Medal for his brave efforts in the Second Battle of Passchendaele. In the following year, during the Battle of the Scarpe, Pegahmagabow was awarded a second Bar to his Military Medal, becoming one of only 38 Canadians to receive this honour.

Pegahmagabow survived the war and returned to Canada in 1919. But his battles were far from over. While largely treated as an equal on the battlefields of Europe, he returned to Canada a second-class citizen - facing poverty and racism. Indian agents controlled much of his life, including his well-earned pension. He sent letters to government officials, demanding better treatment and he helped to form some of the first national aboriginal rights movements in Canada. Pegahmagabow, father of six children with wife Eva, died Aug. 5 1952 of a heart attack.

“I like to think of him as being a warrior in the First World War for Canada,” Sgt. Peter Moon of CFB Borden told the CBC, “and then he came back and because of the way he was treated, he became a warrior for his own people, and he suffered greatly in both capacities.”

In 2006, the military recognized his achievements and sacrifice by erecting a monument at CFB Borden to him, declaring him “a hero of the First World War”. He is a member of the Indian Hall of Fame at the Woodland Centre in Brantford, Ontario. Joseph Boyden’s award-winning 2005 novel, Three Day Road, was in part, inspired by the life of Pegahmagabow.

Further reading

Biographical Record
Full Name Pegahmagabow, Francis (Chief)
Also Known As Peggy
Heritage Ojibwa
Band Name Wasauksing First Nation
Band Location ON
Birth Date 1891-03-09
Birthplace Shawanaga Lake, ON
Date of Death 1952-01-01
Married before Enlistment Single
Occupation before Enlistment Marine fireman for the Dept. of Marine and Fisheries
Biographical Notes He was one of only 39 members of the CEF who received the maximum two bars to the MM. Cf. Native soldiers, Foreign battlefields, p 10, After the war, he became chief of the Parry Island Band
Religion Roman Catholic
Conflict WWI
Service Number 6846
Service Files http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/first-world-war-1914-1918-cef/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=572634
CEF Unit 1st Bn 6846
CEF Branch Canadian Expeditionary Force
Rank Lance Corporal
Date of Enlistment 1914-09-15
Location of Enlistment Valcartier, QC
Age at Enlistment 23
Service History NCO sniper, (MM & 2 Bars)
Medals http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/military-medals-1812-1969/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=89020&, http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/military-medals-1812-1969/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=89018&, http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/military-medals-1812-1969/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=89019&
Medal awarded (MM with 2nd bar)
Date Medal is awarded 1916-06-03, 1918-03-13, 1919-02-11
Identifier 3377