By Peter Moon
CFB Borden – A unique military event has celebrated Aboriginal Veterans Day, the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Canadian Rangers in Northern Ontario, and the renaming of their headquarters building at Canadian Forces Base Borden.
“We had three intersecting elements to make the day the great day it was,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Matthew Richardson, commanding officer of the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, which commands 570 Rangers in 25 First Nations across Northern Ontario. “We had our 25th birthday, we celebrated Aboriginal Veterans Day on November 8, and we rededicated our building after Canada’s most decorated Indigenous soldier. And we did it in style.”
The Rangers are part-time army reservists. They are frequently called on for search and rescue missions and to help in flood, forest fire, and other emergencies in Northern Ontario.
Brigadier-General Jocelyn Paul, the commander of 4th Canadian Division, the military name for the army in Ontario and the Canadian Armed Force’s highest ranking Indigenous member, said he was impressed by the event. It began with a Grand Entry, pow wow-style, with eagle staff carriers and bearers carrying flags ahead of a traditional dancer and drummer (both Canadian Rangers), troops and visitors, all of whom were smudged by 12-year old Tyrell Taylor, a 12-year-old Junior Canadian Ranger from Constance Lake First Nation.
A highlight of the event was the rededication of the Rangers’ headquarters building after Sergeant Francis Pegahmagabow, who was awarded the Military Medal and two bars (the equivalent of three Military Medals) during the First World War, making him Canada’s most highly decorated Indigenous soldier. As a sniper, he is unofficially credited with 378 kills. He returned from Europe to serve his community, the Wasauksing First Nation, near Parry Sound, as a councillor and chief and play a leading role in securing Indigenous rights at the national level.
A cairn honouring him was unveiled in the presence of five of his granddaughters. “Francis was an outstanding man,” said Theresa McIness, a Wasauksing band councillor and a granddaughter. “He served his people in war and in peace. This was an outstanding occasion, a big recognition of what he did for so many people, no matter who they were. It was very emotional and it made us so proud.”
The Ranger headquarters building is now the Company Sergeant-Major Francis Pegahmagabow, MM, Building.
General Paul said he heard about Sergeant Pegahmagabow’s military exploits when he was a boy growing up on the Huron-Wendat First Nation, near Quebec City. “I never thought for a second that one day I would be here in Ontario attending a ceremony where a building would be rededicated in his honour,” he said. “It was very touching.”
He said the growing presence of the Rangers in the First Nations of the Far North of Ontario is important and gives him confidence as the army commander in the province.
“I am proud of them because I know their communities are in great hands,” he said. “Their own people are looking after them and covering such an important part of our nation. They are there ready to help anyone who is in dire need of help in emergencies in their remote communities. The importance of the Rangers for the Northern communities is critical.”