Saturday April 28th was a memorable day for a number of Veterans and Members of Milton Branch 136, as they participated in the Special Memorial Service for Private Bertie Nakogee. The event was well covered by the major news outlets and appeared on the evening news editions of the CBC, CTV and GLOBAL and in the Monday GTA pages of the Toronto Star. A copy of the Star article is included in this post.
Poppy Chair and Member of the Executive Kathleen Blane placed a wreath on the grave site on behalf of Branch 136 and subsequently thanked Branch 75 for all of their support for this event. Some 100 people attended the service and then joined with their comrades at Branch 75 – Fairbanks for lunch and refreshments. This truly is the meaning and purpose of the Legion – WE SHALL REMEMBER THEM.
My special thanks to the Veterans and Members of Branch 136 who took the time to recognize the efforts of our own Comrade Bob Richardson, the man responsible for finding Bertie Nakogee and making sure he was finally sent on his voyage home.
All member photographs are now posted here (added May 22, 2012): Bertie Nakogee Service Milton Legion Photographs
The CBC coverage of the story is on the web at this location (move the cursor to the start at time = 14:40)
The following is the story in the Toronto Star:
Bertie Nakogee: Finally, welcoming a son from a different land
Published On Sun Apr 29 2012
Maj. Rev. Catherine Askew wore a plain white robe over her military uniform and she said that she was nervous, but that it was good to be nervous on a serious occasion.
She is not just a military chaplain and a soldier; she is a member of the Moose Cree First Nation, and on Saturday morning, she was speaking to a group of some 100 people at the graveside of First World War veteran Pte. Bertie Nakogee.
You recall the story.
Bertie was from New Post, Ont. He was a guide and a trapper who enlisted to fight in the First World War. Bertie never made it overseas. He died in Toronto of pneumonia on Boxing Day in 1916.
He was buried in Prospect Cemetery, and his flag-draped coffin was carried to the grave on a gun carriage, accompanied by six aboriginal soldiers; he was buried here, because there was no easy way to ship him home. He was, inexplicably, placed in an unmarked grave. And then he was forgotten.
Not by his family.
And not by us, not any more.
Bertie finally has a headstone, thanks to the efforts of amateur historian Bob Richardson, who spearheaded the original research, called the War Graves Commission, and organized the graveside ceremony.
In attendance were distant relatives; members of the Taykwa Tagamou First Nation to which Bertie belonged; aboriginal veterans; also singers, elders, soldiers, members of the Legion, and a military honour guard.
Maj. Rev. Askew said, “We remember Bertie with song and drum and prayer and sacred medicine.”
Lt. Col. Patrick Bryden is the commanding officer of the Algonquin Regiment which absorbed Bertie’s old battalion, the Northern Fusiliers. He noted that Bertie would have “paddled, with kit, down from the north to the railhead in Moose Factory, to board the train for war.”
In the distance at the cemetery was an honour guard carrying M-16 rifles; in the foreground was the eagle staff of our aboriginal veterans, carried by Joe Paquette.
The staff is wrapped in beaver skin and holds 11 eagle feathers, representing the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. It is topped with deer antler; tied to the antler is a circle woven of sweetgrass; within the circle are bundles holding tobacco, cedar, sage and sweetgrass.
Elder Lloyd Fournier led a portion of the ceremony in which water and tobacco were sprinkled on Bertie’s headstone.
And then Maj. Rev. Askew spoke of the monument at Vimy; she said that here we had raised a monument for Bertie; she was also kind enough to say, “The people of this city welcomed a son from a different land as one of their own.”
We have done so now.
She said Bertie could not vote, but he had been willing to give up his life for people he did not know; he left behind the tamarack, the cooking smells of goose and bannock, and the soft sounds of the Cree language; she noted that here he was not far from the lake, but “the lake is not the Moose River, a living artery bringing life to the people along its banks.”
And then, having spoken of the Vimy monument, she said, “Bob Richardson is a stone mason, carving this story out of history.”
I had a word, after the ceremony, with Stanley Sutherland of Cochrane, one of Bertie’s few remaining relatives. He said, “My dad always talked about Bertie; all we knew was that he died.”
We know the full story now.
And then, when most people had left, Linda Job, chief of the Taykwa Tagamou First Nation, took a pinch of earth from Bertie’s grave and wrapped it carefully, so that she might bring it home.