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Which highly decorated Canadian Indigenous soldier is regarded as the most effective sniper of the First World War?

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Among the more than 650,000 men and women from Canada and Newfoundland who served during the Great War, over 66,000 gave their lives and more than 172,000 were wounded. One of those gallant men that is little known by most Canadians is Corporal Francis Pegahmagabow, M.M. (9 March 1889 – 5 August 1952) – considered one of the most highly decorated Indigenous soldiers in Canadian military history and the most effective sniper of the First World War. An Ojibwa and proud member of the Wasauksing (Parry Island) First Nation near Parry Sound, Ontario, he was one of the first to respond to the call to arms and enlisted with the 23rd Regiment (Northern Pioneers) on 13 August 1914. He was one of the original members of the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion of the 20,000-strong 1st Canadian Division that landed in France in February 1915. While Pegahmagabow's name in English means "approaching tornado", he was called "Peg" or "Peggy" by his fellow soldiers. After fighting in the Second Battle of Ypres, the Battle of the Somme, the Second Battle of Passchendaele, and the Battle of the Scarpe, Pegahmagabow was seriously wounded on two separate occasions and had become one of only 39 in the Canadian Expeditionary Force to be awarded the Military Medal (M.M.) and two bars for bravery: for facing enemy fire repeatedly to dispatch critical messages; for directing a crucial relief effort when his commanding officer was incapacitated; and for climbing out of trench under gunfire to resupply ammunition. Most notably, he was an expert marksman and scout credited with killing 378 enemy soldiers and capturing 300 more. Despite never claiming the accolade or recognition, he is regarded as the most effective sniper of the First World War. After the war he served in the militia, became chief of the Parry Island Band from 1921 to 1925, and a band councillor from 1933 to 1936, and helped to form some of the first national native rights movements in Canada. Pegahmagabow died on the Parry Island Reserve at 63 years of age and is buried at the Wasauksing First Nation Cemetery near Parry Sound.

He is well remembered within the First Nations and the military community. In 1967, Pegahmagabow was inducted into Canada's Indian Hall of Fame housed in the museum of the Woodland Cultural Centre at Brantford, Ontario. The fearless warrior is also commemorated on a plaque marking the Rotary and Algonquin Regiment Fitness Trail in Parry Sound which was opened on 26 July 2003 recognizing the Algonquin Regiment and honouring Algonquin veterans. The Canadian Armed Forces also wanted to honour the legacy of this unsung hero. In 2006, at the initiative of Lieutenant-Colonel Keith Lawrence, C.D. and Sergeant Peter Moon, M.M.M., C.D., from the Canadian Rangers, a memorial cairn was erected in his memory at Canadian Forces Base Borden, Ontario. In order to respect and honour Pegahmagabow's heritage and ancestral roots, the cairn shown in the photograph was made using river rocks from his home on Parry Island. The cairn was unveiled on 6 June 2006 by The Honorable James Bartelman, O.Ont., Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, and in the presence of Pegahmagabow's daughter Marie Anderson and grandson Merle Pegahmagabow. At the same ceremony, the adjacent headquarters building to the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group was officially named the "Corporal Francis Pegahmagabow, MM Building".

On this day, 9 March 2022, we commemorate the 133rd anniversary of the birth of Corporal Francis Pegahmagabow, M.M.

André M. Levesque

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