Francis Pegahmagabow was a marksman who served as a sniper for the Allies against the Germans during World War I. His first overseas deployment was with the ‘1st Canadian Infantry Battalion,’ the first Canadian contingent sent to Europe to battle. He was injured in the leg during the Battle of the Somme. He recovered quickly enough to rejoin his battalion and was given the ‘Military Medal’ for his bravery. During the Second Battle of Passchendaele, he was tasked with connecting with the flanking company and directing reinforcements, for which he received a bar to his ‘Military Medal.’ During the Battle of the Scarpe, he earned his second bar to the ‘Military Medal’ for venturing into “no man’s land” under enemy fire to recover ammunition for his besieged position. He was chosen chief of the ‘Parry Island Band’ after the war and re-elected for a second term. However, due to internal politics, he quit. Later, he was nominated to the council and served for three years, championing the cause of ‘First Nations war veterans. He will be recognized as a skilled soldier, and his name has been inscribed in the “Indian Hall of Fame” at the “Woodland Centre” in Ontario.
Youth and Adolescence
On March 8, 1889, in Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada, he was born to Mary Contin and Michael. His ancestors were ‘First Nations’ Ojibwe. When he was two years old, his father died of an unknown disease, and his mother returned to her original ‘First Nations home. She, too, died as a result of the same illness.
Noah Nebimanyquod reared him in Shawanaga. He quickly learned traditional abilities like fishing, hunting, and horseback riding. Francis learned how to use traditional medicine from his adoptive mother and blended traditional Anishnaabe spirituality with Catholicism. He was aware of his ancestors and proudly exhibited the deer, the clan’s symbol. Like the rest of his clan, he learned to perform his community’s traditional music.
In 1912, he served as a firefighter with the ‘Department of Marine and Fisheries,’ thanks to a scholarship that paid for his boarding and education. In 1913, he contracted typhoid and was brought back to health by the ‘Sisters of St. Joseph.’
Despite widespread discrimination against minorities in the army, he volunteered to fight in the ‘Canadian Expeditionary Force’ when World War I broke out in August 1914. He enlisted in the ’23rd Canadian Infantry (Northern Pioneers)’ at CFB Valcartier.
Francis pegahmagabow’s Career
His first foreign deployment was with the “First Canadian Infantry Battalion” of the “First Canadian Division,” the first Canadian contingent to battle in Europe. He was well-liked by his peers and quickly became known as “Peggy” in his squad.
His first front-line experience came during the Second Battle of Ypres when the Germans employed chlorine gas as a weapon for the first time on the Western Front. Pegahmagabow quickly established himself as an important member of his squad. Everyone praised his sniper abilities.
He was promoted to lance corporal and later took action in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. During the fight, he was wounded in the leg but recovered quickly enough to rejoin his battalion as they marched to Belgium.
His commanding commander recommended him for the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his part in carrying messages during the battle. This was later demoted to the ‘Military Medal.’
Pegahmagabow was given the job of linking up with the flanking unit of the ‘1st Battalion’ and guiding reinforcements during the Second Battle of Passchendaele. He received a bar to his ‘Military Medal’ and was advanced to corporal.
During the Battle of the Scarpe in August 1918, he earned his second bar to the ‘Military Medal’ for venturing into “no man’s land” under enemy machine gun fire to recover ammunition for his besieged position. His battalion was effective in repelling the enemy attack as a result of his efforts.
Pegahmagabow moved to Canada after the war in 1919. With his ‘Ross’ rifle, he acquired a reputation as a skilled marksman. According to official documents, Francis killed 378 Germans and helped capture 300 more. After receiving the ‘1914-15 Star,’ the ‘British War Medal,’ and the ‘Victory Medal,’ he was dismissed as a lance corporal. He remained a non-permanent member of the ‘Algonquin Brigade’ of Canada.
He was elected chief of the ‘Parry Island Band’ in February 1921 and created a stir by asking for people of mixed race to be expelled from the reserve. He was re-elected in 1924 and remained in office until April 1925, when he quit due to internal politics.
He was later chosen as a councilor and served from 1933 to 1936. During this time, the policy was changed to prohibit ‘First Nations leaders from communicating directly with the ‘Department of Indian Affairs’ without first going through Indian agents. Pegahmagabow and many other war veterans did not get along with the Indian agents who had risen to authority.
Pegahmagabow derisively referred to the system as “white slavery” and battled against it. The Indian agents dubbed him a “mental case” and attempted to marginalize him. During WWII, he worked as a guard in an ammunition factory before becoming the ‘Supreme Chief of the Native Independent Government in 1943.
Honors and Recognition
During the second fight of Ypres, Festubert, and Givenchy, he received his first ‘Military Medal’ for displaying courage in the face of the enemy. In the fight of Passchendaele, he received a bar to his ‘Military Medal,’ and in the battle of The Scarpe, he received a second bar to his medal. He was also awarded the ‘1914-15 Star,’ ‘British War Medal,’ and ‘Victory Medal.’
Francis’s Private Affairs
Francis Pegahmagabow had six children and was married. After the conflict, he became involved in politics and advocated for natives and war veterans. He perished from a heart attack in 1952, at the age of 61. He was regarded as both a competent soldier and a decent human being. He was inducted into the ‘Indian Hall of Honor’ at Ontario’s ‘Woodland Centre’. In his tribute, the ‘Canadian Armed Forces named the ‘3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group HQ Building’ after him.
His family donated his medals and chief headgear to the ‘Canadian War Museum’ in 2003, where it is still exhibited alongside other World War I artifacts. People have frequently questioned why he was not given greater honors, such as the ‘Victoria Cross.’ Historians believe this is because he did not use an observer to validate his kills and may have faced discrimination because of his ‘First Nations’ heritage.
Estimated Net Worth
On June 21, 2016, on ‘National Aboriginal Day,’ a life-size bronze monument of Francis Pegahmagabow was unveiled in Parry Sound, near Georgian Bay. The statue depicted Pegahmagabow’s deeds during World War I and his native clan, with a ‘Ross’ rifle slung over one shoulder and a caribou at its feet.