The portrait of WWI soldier Francis Pegahmagabow was created by students from Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School in Thunder Bay, Ont., with help from a local artist. (Amy Hadley/CBC) A group of art students from an Indigenous high school in Thunder Bay, Ont. who paid tribute to a legendary First World War sniper, and Indigenous advocate by creating a portrait of him, have now passed that portrait on to the soldier’s great-grandson.
"It was very significant," said Brian McInnis, the great-grandson of soldier Francis Pegahmagabow, who visited Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School on Friday to accept the painting and to share some stories with students.
While Pegahmagabow has been honoured with everything from a statue to plaques in the past, McInnis, who travelled from Duluth, Minn. to Thunder Bay to visit the school, said the painting stands out as a tribute. One of the students who created the painting puts the finishing touch on the back, before presenting it to Brian McInnis, great-grandson of Francis Pegahmagabow. Listed are the names of those who contributed and their home communities. (Amy Hadley/CBC) "What was so significant about this for me was that here were young Indigenous people honouring him as one of their heroes …And so to me, that was one of the most significant and meaningful tributes I’d ever heard of."
Pegahmagabow, who hailed from what is now Wasauksing First Nation, became known as the deadliest sniper in the First World War, and emerged from the conflict as one of the most decorated Indigenous soldiers in Canadian history. Upon returning home, he also became an advocate for Indigenous rights, and a leader both in his community and on the national stage.
It’s a story that Canadians should be more familiar with, said Jordyn Johnup, a DFC graduate who was part of the art club last year, and who helped to create the stencil painting.
"[Pegahmagabow] wasn’t really credited in Canadian history as much as he should be," she said. Jordyn Johnup is a DFC graduate who helped to create the painting. Johnup said she also suggested Francis Pegahmagabow to her teacher, Greg Chomut, as someone students should study. (Amy Hadley/CBC) The students originally painted Pegahmagabow as part of a larger mural in the high school, explained teacher Greg Chomut. However, when they saw how "powerful," the image was, they decided to transfer it to canvas as well, and then to reach out to the family.
They "just thought it would be so fitting and nice to actually give them a print of the work that the students had done," Chomut said, adding that the story of Pegahmagabow and his bravery both on the battlefield, and as an advocate at home is one that never fails to connect with students. Brian McInnis, great-grandson of soldier Francis Pegahmagabow poses with a portrait of his great-grandfather painted by students at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School in Thunder Bay, Ont. McInnis visited the school to accept the painting and share some stories from his book, Sounding Thunder: The Stories of Francis Pegahmagabow. (Amy Hadley/CBC) The portrait will now be brought back to Wasauksing to be displayed, McInnis said.
"I think it’s a very powerful tribute from another place made in his honour that we want all of our community members to also be able to appreciate. We don’t have any such painting of him anywhere in our home community hanging publicly. So this fills, I think, a great void in a good way."
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