In Mem­ory of Pauline John­son

The Expositor (Brantford) - - LEST WE FORGET - By Evan Habkirk Evan Habkirk is a grad­u­ate of Lau­rier Brant­ford and a PhD can­di­date at West­ern Univer­sity. He is also a mem­ber of the Great War Cen­te­nary As­so­ci­a­tion which is ded­i­cated to the com­mem­o­ra­tion of those from Brant­ford, Brant County and Six Nat

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.

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