I never met my great grandfather, Joseph Gagnon, I only heard oral stories about him. One story I heard from my grandmother’s and father’s generations is that he is buried in St. Columba’s Cemetery in Pembroke Ontario. I was told, though, that the exact location of his final resting place is unknown because no grave marker stone was installed. Many winters and many more moons ago I took the trek from Toronto to see for myself and sure enough there was no grave marker stone to be found and as a result I was unsure where to place my semma (Tobacco).
While I have been on a long journey of coming to know who I am as an Algonquin Anishinaabe person, receiving oral stories, learning how to read and write, conducting archival research, and a ridiculously long court process, I vowed that one day I would dive deeper into this situation of addressing Joseph Gagnon’s final resting place and see if I could have a grave marker installed so the next seven generations would better be able remember him and his role as a proud WW1 Veteran. This is an iteration of my story in written form. Of course, it is more complex and nuanced than these words on a page.
Before I begin, and as a re-cap, Joseph was born on April 7, 1888 in Calabogie Ontario to parents Joseph Gagnon and Angeline Gagnon (nee Jocko); he lived in the reserve community of Golden Lake First Nation, now Pikwakanagan First Nation; he was a Private in the 207th Battalion; he departed for England on May 28th, 1917; he was wounded in the field with gun shots to his left leg and right arm; he returned to Canada on December 30th, 1918; and he died on October 30th, 1939. It is important for me to note here that Joseph’s attestation papers list his birth year as 1890; yet his certificates of birth and baptism record his birth year as 1888, and further his marriage record implies his birth year is 1888 as well. I am opting to go with the year 1888. It is also important that I state here that in the records, sometimes his last name is spelled Gagne.
Family members and people who want to read more about Joseph can visit:
They can also find his attestation papers at:
In moving along, in the last several months, possibly motivated by several family deaths and my older age, I decided I had to finally take on this matter and have a grave marker stone created for my great grandfather. Bryce Gagnon, who is my father’s generation, a cousin, encouraged me to take it on. My preference was that he take it on, but for whatever reason he opted to pass that responsibility on to me, motivating me along. With that explained I will break down my process in numbered steps as a measure to provide clarity for other people to best follow - after all, they may be in the same situation as I am in. I work hard serving.
First, as a new learner of the World Wars and what it means to be a veteran of Canada I opted to reach out to Veterans Affairs Canada via email asking if they could help me. Three weeks later I received an email from the Grave Marker Maintenance Program telling me they had no information on where Joseph was interred. They directed me to the Last Post Fund (LPF) that has an Unmarked Grave Program, providing grave markers for Indigenous veterans that have been unmarked for over 5 years. And so I contacted them.
The LPF told me I would have to determine the grave location, adding that if this was not possible there was another option. Essentially, a grave marker could be made that qualified “Buried elsewhere in the cemetery …” and it could be installed in a designated place where the cemetery administrators felt was appropriate. They also mentioned that as part of the Unmarked Grave Program, when the veteran was Indigenous, their Indigenous name and a traditional symbol could be added to the marker.
Second, like a good soldier following orders, I filled out the application LPF sent me. It was tedious. In order to have a grave marker installed, they required: Joseph’s date of death; a confirmation from the cemetery of his burial (even though his exact location is unknown); approval from the cemetery administrator to install the grave marker and also provide the location where the grave marker would be installed.
Those wishing to learn more about the Last Post Fund can visit: https://www.lastpostfund.ca/
Third, I contacted St. Columba’s Cemetery asking if they held a record of his burial, and if so the exact location of his final resting place. I told the cemetery administrator about my plan to have a grave marker installed for Joseph through LPF. Like the administrator at LPF, the cemetery administrator was wonderful in helping me move through my frustrations. I am tired; all the time I am tired. There seems to be no end to what has happened to the Algonquin Anishinaabeg. Unfortunately, the cemetery administrator told me that the burial records were burned in a fire and thus they could not provide his exact resting place. Your heart sinks at moments like these. Regardless of not knowing the exact location, the administrator did assure me they were committed to helping me in my effort where within a few weeks they managed to find a record that confirmed Joseph was indeed buried in St. Columba’s Cemetery. The administrator sent me a clip of the record. Although there are a few discrepancies, such as his age and his wife’s full name, Annie Meness versus Annie Monett. Further, they confirmed he was possibly in area A2 where lots 654 are located, or possibly in area B1 where lots 216 are located (see above and below). It was explained that these lots have 8 and 4 grave plots respectively. Learning, or rather re-learning this, was unfortunate but this is the nature of fire. As a sacred element along with water, wind, and rock it rules over human made laws and policies. Most Anishinaabeg know this.
The cemetery administrator gained permission to have a grave marker installed and they confirmed an installation location. The location is in A1, just off of TV Tower Road (again see above). With all of this knowledge gathered I then filled out the LPF application.
It was here at this moment of my process that I was able to draw on my creative skills and the depth of Indigenous knowledge I had worked hard to acquire, adding an important Anishinaabe symbol and a meaningful epitaph to my rendering of the grave marker stone. LPF accepted my rendering, ensuring it fit within their requirements, and they forwarded it on to the carver who will create a final version of the grave marker before it is carved into granite. I am told this will be sent to me for a final “ok”.
Fourth, and lastly, it is my hope to have Joseph Gagnon’s grave marker stone installed on November 11, 2024 (this date is subject to change) with many of his grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren in attendance. They are the descendants of Kenneth Gagnon, Viola Gagnon (my grandmother), Gordon Gagnon, Celia Gagnon, and Steve Gagnon (See photo, 1965, left to right).
My goal and hope of this exercise of mine, and the eventual installation of a grave marker, is that all of his Algonquin Anishinaabe descendants will remember their ancestor Joseph Gagnon.
Lynn is an author, advocate, artist, and public speaker. Her work encompasses both anti-colonial work and the celebration of Indigenous knowledge. She challenges Canada’s practices, policies, and laws of colonial genocide such as the land claims and self-government process, sex-discrimination in the Indian Act, the continued destruction of Akikpautik / Chaudière Falls–an Anishinaabeg sacred place, and Canada’s lack of policy addressing Indigenous women and girls with disabilities who are bigger targets of sexual violence.
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