Continuing on with our profiles of aboriginal Canadians, we bring you the profile of another World War I sniper, perhaps one of the best snipers of all time, Obijwa chief and advocate, Francis “Peggy” Pegahmagabow.
Francis “Peggy” Pegahmagabow was born on what is now the Shawanaga First Nation reserve in Nobel, Ontario. Both of Francis’ parents, Michael Pegahmagabow and Mary Contin passed of an unknown illness when Francis was a young boy. He was raised in the customs and traditions of the Anishnaabe.
Francis began working, at 12, at local lumber camps and fishing stations. When he was 21, in 1911, Francis wanted to finish his public school education. However, the band council refused to help him pay for room and board while he was at school. A Parry Sound Crown lawyer, Walter Lockwood Haight assisted and in 1912, Francis Pegahmagabow began attending school, doing well and learning to play and read music.
When World War I began, the Canadian government excluded Aboriginal peoples and certain ethnic minorities from military service. As the war raged on, the bans were lifted but so called Treaty Indians were exempted from service. Mr. Pegahmagabow enlisted almost immediately after war was declared. signing on with the 23rd Regiment (Northern Pioneers) overseas contingent in August 1914. He was one of the original members of the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion, which landed in France in February 1915.
Known as “Peggy” to his fellow soldiers, he fought at the Second Battle of Ypres, where the Germans used chlorine gas for the first time; the Battle of Mount Sorrel, where he captured many German prisoners, at the Battle of Passchendaele, the Battle of the Scarpe and at the Battle of the Somme, where he was shot in the leg. He was credited, during the war, with 378 sniper kills.
He received his first Military Medal in 1916 for facing the enemy to dispatch critical messages and his second for valour in 1918. He earned two bars for sniping and scoting and was the most decorated aboriginal soldier in Canadian military history. He also received a 1914-15, a British War Medal and the Victory Medal. His medals along with his chief’s headdress have been donated to the Canadian War Museum.
He returned to Parry Island in 1919, where he continued service with the Algonquin Militia Regiment. The war hero returned home only to face the same persecution and poverty that he had experienced before. His life was regulated by local Indian agents who even had control of his pension. So he become involved in politics.
From 1921 – 1925, Mr. Pegahmagabow was Chief of the Parry Island Band and he was a councillor from 1933 – 1936. In these offices, he sent letters to the prime minister and other policy makers demanding better treatment for Aboriginal peoples. He tried unsuccessfully to have band council authority overrule the Indian agents. He attempted to rally bands in his region to protest to the British Crown. He also had arguments with other band members, over efforts to remove non-band members and mixed-race individuals from the reserve and was ultimately ousted in 1925. He took the protest to Parliament Hill as well, demanding tax and conscription exemptions for Aboriginal peoples.
Along came World War II and Mr. Pegahmagabow worked as a guard at a munitions plant near Nobel, Ontario while serving as a Sergeant-Major in the militia. In 1945, he served two terms as a Supreme Chief of the Native Indian Government. He was also a member of the National Indian Brotherhood.
Mr. Pegahmagabow died in 1952 at age 64 of a heart attack. 90 years after his service in World War I, the CAF honoured him with a monument at CFB Borden.
More information about Sergeant-Major Pegahmagabow:
He is a member of Canada’s Indian Hall of Fame.
His Ojibway name in Binaaswi, which means the wind that blows off.
Only 38 other men were awarded the double bar in World War I.
Mr. Pegahmagabow is the only soldier to have two separate exhibits at the Canadian War Museum.
To learn more about Francis “Peggy” Pegahmagabow, refer to these sources (many of which were used to compile the profile above):
Book: Pegahmagabow, Life Long Warrior by Adrian Hayes, Dundurn Books