In time for Remembrance Day, Canada’s most decorated Indigenous war veteran and a Manitoba icon has been honoured with his own postage stamp.
Canada Post has issued a new stamp to remember the life and achievements of Sergeant Thomas (Tommy) George Prince, MM (1915-77), one of Canada’s most decorated Indigenous war veterans and a prominent Anishinaabe activist.
Sergeant Tommy Prince was born in 1915 on St. Peter’s Reserve in Petersfield, right here in Manitoba. He grew up in the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation and attended Elkhorn Residential School. In 1940, Sergeant Prince enlisted with the Royal Canadian Engineers. Two years later, he joined the 1st Special Service Force, also known as the Devil’s Brigade, a joint Canada-U.S. specialized reconnaissance and raiding unit where he gained a reputation for his marksmanship, stealth and tracking skills. He once repaired the broken telephone line he was using to report on German positions by posing, in full view of the enemy, as a farmer tending his fields!
For his selfless service during the Second World War as well as the Korean War, Prince received the Military Medal from King George VI, and is one of 59 Canadians to receive a Silver Star from the U.S. president, along with being one of only three people in history to receive both awards. In total, he received 11 medals for heroism.
Following his military service, Prince struggled with civilian life. Despite having served honourably in the defense of our country, he was ineligible for any veteran’s compensation or benefits and could not vote in federal elections due to his Indigenous heritage. He served as vice-president of the Manitoba Indian Association, advocating for the abolition of the Indian Act and for the government to respect existing treaties. He died in Winnipeg at the age of 62 in 1977.
While Prince has been memorialized in recent years with a school named after him in Brokenhead, and a barracks at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa in Ontario, along with a Sgt. Tommy Prince Street in Winnipeg and a Tom Prince Drive in Petersfield, his story needs to continue to be told to remind us of the work that we still need to do to achieve understanding and reconciliation. National Indigenous Veterans Day is November 8.
The commemorative stamp, which was unveiled last month with a ceremony at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, was designed by Blair Thomson of Believe in and includes a photo of Prince in his Korean War uniform, with northern lights in the background meant to represent the sky of his childhood home in the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation.
The Canada Post stamp program seeks to tell stories about the people who have shaped our country. Last year at this time, a stamp was issued honouring the three soldiers of Valour Road, also from Manitoba.
Three soldiers, all of whom lived on our city’s Pine Street, all served in the First World War. Remarkably, each was awarded a prestigious Victoria Cross. Bestowed on fewer than 100 Canadians since 1856, the Victoria Cross is the Commonwealth’s highest military decoration for bravery in combat. It is awarded “for most conspicuous bravery or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour, self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy,” says Veterans Affairs Canada.
Lionel Clark, Robert Shankland and Frederick William Hall all lived on what was then known as Pine Street. All three fought in the First World War. After the war, in 1925, Pine Street was renamed in memory of these three local soldiers. While there’s no evidence the men knew each other, the street they once lived on is now dedicated to their courage and sacrifice — it is now called Valour Road.
“The boys of Valour Road” and Sgt. Tommy Prince were everyday Canadians who overcame hardship and fear while honourably demonstrating extraordinary courage and sacrifice. Heroes — as are all soldiers who give selflessly in the service of their country.
There are many more stories of such courage, many that aren’t even commemorated in this way, but in honouring the ones that we know of — and always remembering their sacrifices — we honour them all.
These commemorative stamps are now available for purchase at post offices. You can also visit canadapost.ca for more information and collectibles.
The Annual Winnipeg Remembrance Day Service will be held at the RBC Convention Centre on York Avenue on November 11. The doors will open at 9:30 am with public seating by 10:30 am with the service following at 10:40 am. Various services will also be held at various Legions across the city, with the St. James Legion hosting a parade at 10:40 am.
To make direct donations to our war veterans, remember to buy a poppy via the Poppy Campaign prior to Remembrance Day. Poppies are available at most retailers and banks until then.
Donations go directly to aiding veterans and their families. Your donation, however small, makes a big impact within your community. For more information visit legion.ca, or to make purchases from the Poppy Store, go to poppystore.ca