He’s Canada’s most decorated Indigenous veteran, and if a group of federal Conservative members of parliament get their way, Sgt. Tommy Prince will be the new face of the $5 bill.
MPs Marty Morantz (Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley) and James Bezan (Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman) are two of seven Tory MPs in Manitoba who have started a petition and sent a letter to both Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Tiff Macklem, Governor of the Bank of Canada, urging them to replace former Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier with Prince on the bill. They are also joined by Manitoba Tory Senator Donald Plett, and Eric Melillo, Tory MP for Kenora.
"He deserves it and he should be on the bill," Morantz said on Sunday.
"Anyone might have different reasons and positions for who should be on the bill, but for me this is such a nice message for reconciliation and in line with the goals of the Truth and Reconciliation report."
Bezan said Prince "made some huge contributions in the service while in uniform.
"But it also is racism and discrimination. He never had the same veteran benefits others had. He was homeless and penniless when he died.
"Here is a way of righting those wrongs."
Prince, who was born in 1915 and died in 1977, was born in Petersfield and grew up at the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation. He was the great-great-grandson of Chief Peguis.
He volunteered for the Second World War and was trained as a sapper — a soldier who builds roads and bridges and lays and clears landmines — by the Royal Canadian Engineers and later volunteered to be part of the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion, known as the Devil’s Brigade.
One of Prince’s better known acts of bravery came while he was behind enemy lines in Italy reporting on the enemy’s location. At one point, his communication line was cut, so, dressed as a farmer, he went out and repaired the line while pretending to tie his shoes. He even shook his fist at both German and Allied lines before going back to his post.
King George VI gave him his Military Medal while, on behalf of the American president, he received a Silver Star, one of only 59 Canadians to get that honour, and one of only three who received both medals. He also earned six service medals.
Later, while serving with 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in Korea, he fought in the Battle of Kapyong and was part of the first Canadian unit awarded the United States Presidential Unit citation. He also received both the Canadian and United Nations Korea Medal and, after his death, he received the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal for Korea when it was created in 1991.
A school is named after him in Brokenhead, as is a barracks at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa and Winnipeg honoured him with Sgt. Tommy Prince Street while Petersfield has Tom Prince Drive.
After the wars, Prince found it hard to adjust to civilian life and turned to alcohol. He was also forced to sell his medals, but, years later his nephew organized a pledge drive and they were purchased at an auction and are now at the Manitoba Museum.
Bezan said having Prince replace Laurier would also be fitting because, while he was prime minister, Laurier forced the legal surrender of St. Peter’s Reserve, and forcibly marched the Indigenous residents to what is now Peguis First Nation. He said St. Peter’s is also the mother reserve of Brokenhead.
"Putting Sgt. Tommy Prince on Canada’s $5 bill in place of Sir Wilfred Laurier would be deserved retribution," he said.
Bezan said he is confident there’s a good chance that Prince’s face will end up on the bill.
"I’ve got my $5 on Tommy Prince," he said.
To support the petition, go to http://wfp.to/tommyprince
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
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Updated on Monday, June 29, 2020 at 9:49 AM CDT: Corrects spelling of Eric Melillo's name