A painted photograph of Corporal Francis Pegahmagabow dressed in his military uniform and wearing his medals. Originally a black and white photo, the portrait has been coloured with oil paints. Pegahmagabow, a sniper and scout, was awarded three Military Medals.

A painted photograph of Corporal Francis Pegahmagabow dressed in his military uniform and wearing his medals. Originally a black and white photo, the portrait has been coloured with oil paints. Pegahmagabow, a sniper and scout, was awarded three Military Medals.
Photo Credit: George Metcalf Archival Collection

National Aboriginal Day: Honouring Sergeant-Major Francis Pegahmagabow

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He was the most decorated aboriginal soldier of the Canadian military in the First World War.

Now  on this 20th anniversary of National Aboriginal Day in Canada, a new, larger-than-life statue has been erected in his honour near his home.

The statue and unveiling ceremony today near Parry Sound Ontario.
The statue and unveiling ceremony today near Parry Sound Ontario. The larger-than-life statue honours the man who served Canada and his aboriginal community so well. © Natalie Kalata-CBC

Francis Pegahmagabow grew up near Parry Sound, Ontario, as a member of the  Wasauksing First Nation. The impressive bronze sculpture has been placed at the Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts in Parry Sound, in view of Parry Island, Pegahmagabow’s home.

Schooled in the traditional ways of hunting and fishing he held various jobs until the First World War broke out, signing up soon after war was declared.

RCInet- 2015- memorial plaque

Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde speaking at the unveiling of the Pegahmagabow statue today saying *On the 20th anniversary of National Aboriginal Day, we are poised on a new era of reconciliation, a time to renew our original relationship of partnership, respect and sharing.*
Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde speaking at the unveiling of the Pegahmagabow statue today saying *On the 20th anniversary of National Aboriginal Day, we are poised on a new era of reconciliation, a time to renew our original relationship of partnership, respect and sharing.* © Lucas Powers-CBC

His bravery quickly became evident, as a scout and then sniper with the rank of Corporal.

In fact he was among the first to be awarded the Military Medal for his bravery for delivering vital messages under fire during battles at Ypres, Festubert and Givenchy.

Sgt Francis Pegahmagabow is one of only 38 Canadians to be decorated with the Military Medal with two bars, awarded for acts of bravery and devotion under fire. From left to right, his medals include the Military Medal with two bars, the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal (1914-1918).
Sgt Francis Pegahmagabow is one of only 38 Canadians to be decorated with the Military Medal with two bars, awarded for acts of bravery and devotion under fire. From left to right, his medals include the Military Medal with two bars, the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal (1914-1918). © Sgt D. Shouinard, Directorate of Army Public Affairs

Each additional time a soldier was awarded the Military Medal, he was given a silver bar to add to the ribbon of the existing medal. Pegahmagabow is among only 38 Canadians to have two bars added to his MM.

His additional citations read: “At Passchendaele Nov. 6th/7th, 1917, this NCO [non-commissioned officer] did excellent work. Before and after the attack he kept in touch with the flanks, advising the units he had seen, this information proving the success of the attack and saving valuable time in consolidating. He also guided the relief to its proper place after it had become mixed up.”

Showing scale, artist Tyler Fauvelle sculpts the Sergeant Francis Pegahmagabow figure for the three-metre bronze statue that honours Canada’s most decorated Aboriginal war hero.
Showing scale, artist Tyler Fauvelle sculpts the Sergeant Francis Pegahmagabow figure for the three-metre bronze statue that honours Canada’s most decorated Aboriginal war hero. © Tyler Fauvelle supplied

The second came after the Battle of Scarpe: “During the operations of August 30, 1918, at Orix Trench, near Upton Wood, when his company were almost out of ammunition and in danger of being surrounded, this NCO went over the top under heavy MG [machine gun] and rifle fire and brought back sufficient ammunition to enable the post to carry on and assist in repulsing heavy enemy counter-attacks.”

Post-war he became active in his community, twice becoming band chief and an advocate for aboriginal rights. In the 1920’s he re-enlisted as a member of the militia with the rank of Company Sergeant-Major. Sgt Pegahmagabow died in 1952.

Tyler Fauvelle, Canadian artist, sculpts the eagle figure that became part of the bronze Sergeant Francis Pegahmagabow statue, unveiled in Parry Sound, Ontario on June 21, 2016. The three-metre bronze statue honours Canada’s most decorated Aboriginal war hero.
Tyler Fauvelle, Canadian artist, sculpts the eagle figure that became part of the bronze Sergeant Francis Pegahmagabow statue, unveiled in Parry Sound, Ontario on June 21, 2016. The three-metre bronze statue honours Canada’s most decorated Aboriginal war hero. © Tyler Fauvelle supplied

Sudbury Ontario artist Tyler Fauvelle heard of the story of this remarkable man, and was inspired to create a bronze statue in his honour, which was unveiled today, appropriately on Canada’s National Aboriginal Day.

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8 comments on “National Aboriginal Day: Honouring Sergeant-Major Francis Pegahmagabow
  1. Lori Brickman says:

    Very nice memorial, feel like I’m apart of the family Paulette Pegamagabow Greg Saari, Smudge are very dear friends of mine💖 Also my grandfather served in WW1, they probably crossed paths at some point. The statue is beautiful along with the setting, great work!
    What an honour to be apart of Cpl Francis Pegamagabow!

  2. fred cerbe says:

    I am a bit unclear why the killing of German soldiers is something to celebrate or lionize. What if Germans put up a monument to how many Canadians or Americans they killed? Misplaced attention on his war acts, although his post war service is commendable.

    • kd says:

      Fred, I’m guessing if the Canadians or Americans had started the war and were the aggressors with designs on European dominance then a German monument to how many Cdns and Americans killed would be justified. We honour those who defended freedom whether it be by sniper fire, artillery shelling or hand to hand fighting. I wonder how many Canadians Francis spared by eliminating a significant German threat. Francis and thousands of others made huge sacrifices through their heroic actions, all to whom we owe the highest honour. While his post war service is commendable as you note his wartime service is truly worthy of this wonderful monument.

    • Tom Cornett says:

      truth is fred is that your forgetting whom brought you the story which you read! cbc i.e. the news media! and the mandate of the news media is indelibly to sell a story..Can this we agree on? Therefore ask yourself now> why all your heard about Francis is the number of Germans he killed? Dig deeper and you will find that Francis, threw his heroic acts, literally saved his platoon because his commanders we lost on the battlefield, not in position where the unit was suppose to be and pinned down by lethal machine guns. It was Francis whom led his comrades and platoon to safety. His incredible orienteering skills and reconnaissance made the difference to ensure more Canadians survived and came home.

      But when he got home to Canada, the country he fought selflessly for, he was confronted by racism, by likely Canadians like you Fred. When he took his soldier uniform and medals, he was treated by non-native Canadians as just another dumb damn Indian that this country is cursed with.

      Truth and reconciliation Fred, & can you imagine a world or the country your in now if Hitler had succeeded? The threat then was real and more real than anything we likely have ever been faced with………..

      • Tom Cornett says:

        Sorry typo Oct 24, 2016 reply i.e. when he took “OFF” his soldier uniform and medals, he was treated by non-native………..off to add…Responding to James Tasker Jun21-2016 comments, BRAVO! to saying truth!!! Also agree that “It is a national disgrace that these things are not taught to all students”.

    • Waabishki Makwa says:

      Francis is honored as the most decorated Canadian Indigenous soldier for bravery based on his acts that saved life. He did not boast about life that he took during military service.

  3. James Tasker says:

    What an incredible, heroic and inspiring story.I am sad and embarrassed to say that i had never heard it told before,nor was taught it in school.We all owe so much to him and all the other great First Nations soldiers.It is a national disgrace that these things are not taught to all students.

  4. tom cornett says:

    Thank you for bringing Canadians knowledge of this incredible aboriginal person and war hero. The ill-treatment Francis received when returning back to his homeland, the country he fought bravely and selflessly for,,,,like the cry of eagle, still echos truth and reconciliation in the wind. May this statue forever remind Canadians of mighty cry of the eagle………