In Memory of Pauline Johnson
Although never declaring war on Germany, the people of Six Nations supported their treaty partner, the British Crown, during the First World War.
325 Six Nations men and 1 woman enlisted for military service, the Six Nations Confederacy Council donated over $1,700 to various wartime charities, and the Six Nations Patriotic League made and purchased clothing and comforts for soldiers and orphaned children while also making quilts for the Belgian Relief Fund.
Other Six Nations support came from unlikely sources. Poet Pauline Johnson and her sister Evelyn found ways to support the war, even though Pauline had died March 7th 1913.
The Johnson family had always supported the Six Nations community, their military, and the British Crown.
Johnson’s grandfather, John Smoke Johnson (Tekahionwake) fought during the War of 1812 while Johnson’s father, George Henry Martin Johnson was a dispatch rider in the Rebellions of 1837-38 and organized Six Nations forces during the Fenian Raids.
Both John Smoke and George Henry Martin were also condoled Chiefs of the Six Nations, with George defending his people and their lands to his dying breath when he was beaten and left to die by non-Six Nations timber poachers in 1884.
Well versed in their father’s Six Nations and their mother’s British culture, the Johnson children grew up respecting their military traditions and duel heritage.
Pauline Johnson’s poems displayed these sentiments while challenging British and Canadian notions of their superiority over First Nations peoples.
Following Pauline’s death, Evelyn was left to settle her affairs. Given a small inheritance and the rights to some of Pauline’s poems, Evelyn began to raise funds for a memorial for her sister in Brantford and Vancouver where she had spent the last years of her life.
Wanting a useful civic memorial for her sister, Evelyn worked with the hospital authorities in Brantford and Vancouver to furnish either a ward or private rooms for travelling artists dedicated in the memory of Pauline.
Although negotiations with the Vancouver General Hospital failed, the Pauline Johnson room in the John Stratford building at the Brantford General hospital was opened for patients.
With the coming of the war, Evelyn began selling the rights to Pauline’s poems for other philanthropic endovours, selling the poem “And He Said ‘Fight On’” to a publisher who printed and sold cards to fundraise for wartime relief associations.
Evelyn continued to advocate and support wartime relief associations throughout the war, including the British Imperial Club and the War Relief Association in New York.
In Vancouver, Evelyn still wanted a memorial to her sister, but did not know what form it should take. She gave $217 from her sister’s estate to the editor of Vancouver newspaper, The World, in the hope that the people of Vancouver would decide on a fitting memorial for her sister.
With the First World War raging in Europe, the people of Vancouver decided the money would go to the purchase of machine guns for their troops going overseas. A subscription campaign was launched.
People who donated to the fund received cards with the following lines taken from Johnson’s poem “Canadian born”:
We first saw light in Canada, the land beloved of God;
We are the pulse of Canada, its marrow and its blood;
And we, the men of Canada, can face the world and brag
That we were born in Canada beneath the British flag.
From August to September 1915, the campaigned raised over $1000.
In October, one M1895 ColtBrowning .303-calibre machine gun was purchased for the 29th Battalion (Tobin’s Tigers) which, in honour of Pauline Johnson, had her grandfather’s and her stage name, Tekahionwake, engraved on its side.
According to The World, the purchase of the gun “would have appealed [to Pauline] with great force” as “nothing would have pleased her more than to know she had done something for her country’s defence.”
It is unclear how much action the gun saw during the war as many Browning-Colt machine guns were being replaced by the British Maxum machine guns in 1916.
According the book, The Mohawk Princess the gun saw action in Belgium, especially in the Kemmel and Ypres areas in 1916. According to her memoirs, Evelyn notes that the original six men that manned the machine gun were killed in action during the war.
After the war, the gun was returned to Vancouver and was on display in the front window The World’s office before being given to the one of the city’s armories as a war memorial in 1924.
With the passing of time and First World War becoming a distant memory, the whereabouts of the Pauline Johnson machine gun became a mystery. Lost among may First World War artifacts and tributes to Johnson, many believed the gun to have been destroyed.
During a tour of the Beatty Street Drill Hall Museum in Vancouver, the gun was rediscovered by local historian Jolene Cumming in 2016.
Now a prominent artifact in the museum, the memory of the Johnson sisters, the First World War, and the Six Nations support during war can be remembered and memorialized in Brantford, the Grand River Territory, and as far as Vancouver, British Columbia.
In Brantford, the memory of Johnson is remembered at Chiefswood National Historic Site, through a memorial marker at the Mohawk Chapel, and through the building of Pauline Johnson Collegiate Institute in 1954.
Honouring Evelyn’s fundraising efforts for a memorial plaque to her sister, which were diverted to support the war effort, a brass tablet honouring Pauline Johnson was erected in Brantford on March 1917 which is now housed in the Brantford Public Library.