Johnson Paudash

Lance Corporal Johnson Paudash served in the Great War from November 11th 1914 to May 18th 1918 in the 21st Battalion, and his service has earned him recognition as one of Canada’s greatest snipers during his time. He was active in Vimy Ridge, the battle of the Somme, the third battle of Passchendaele, and Ypres in Belgium. He and his brother, George Paudash, both significant members of the Hiawatha Reserve on Rice Lake Ontario, fought alongside the British as part of the 21st Battalion in hopes to receive compensation for their reserve. Being from the Hiawatha Reserve, these men have watched their ancestors do everything in their power to fight for their rights, even if that meant risking their lives in wartime. His family is full of dedicated chiefs and warriors who have worked with the British and participated in the military despite the years of abuse they endured as indigenous peoples, likely in the hopes that they would receive benefit for their land one day.

The Hiawatha Reserve is located at 123 Paudash St, just outside Peterborough, Ontario. For years they have been a vibrant and independent population. Today, they sit on 2145 acres of land, of which 1523 are under certificates of possession. Paudash fought for this number to change significantly. He wanted his people to be in control of their own land, as their abundance of rice was depleted significantly when the city of Peterborough harvested it and ruined the rice beds. Before the war, Paudash spent a significant part of his life farming his own land and providing food for the reserve. When the time came, he enlisted to serve in the Great War due to the encouragement of his close friend, Sir Sam Hughes.

Paudash was 39 years old when he began training in England before deploying to France and later Belgium. He was considered to be over age, but the military recognized something special in Paudash. A talented sniper and a fearless leader, his contribution was necessary on the battlefield. Paudash showed remarkable bravery and leadership from the beginning of his enlistment. He convinced his younger brother to also enlist, and they both went overseas to make a name for the Paudash family and the Hiawatha Reserve. During Paudash’s time at war, he endured many injuries from shrapnel, bayonets, and also suffered multiple gunshot wounds. Despite his physical setbacks due to these injuries and the intake of chlorine gas in Ypres resulting in shortness of breath, Paudash was one of the most credible snipers out of Canada. He sniped without fear of danger, and put himself in terrifying situations in order to establish his name and therefore a name for his people back home on the reserve. During his three years in combat, Paudash was credited for sniping 42 enemy soldiers and 88 kills altogether. Despite his wounds, he would seek treatment and return to the field many times. On record, Paudash suffered two gunshot wounds to the calf, one to the thigh, and one to the forehead. Also noted are bayonet wounds on his legs, stiffness in his shoulder, and shortness of breath. For his bravery, he was awarded the Military Medal, specifically for his deeds on 26th January 1918, when he maintained his post and continued to snipe despite the trenches receiving heavy bombardment.

Paudash served four years overseas, mostly stationed in Belgium fighting against the Germans. When Paudash was eventually deemed medically unfit to serve further overseas at 49 years of age, he was discharged by his officials and returned to Canada, settling in Lindsay, Ontario with his wife Florence. He became a mail carrier but never lost his drive to serve, spending his elderly years continuing to fight for the rights of his reserve and the Mississauga peoples at Rice Lake, Peterborough.

Article about Johnson Paudash in The Commando, June 1945. Archive Reference COM1945VOL3NO11. Used with permission from the Ajax Public Library Digital Archives.

Paudash was determined to change the reality of the reserve for his people, just as his ancestors did in the past. A document was found which outlines a speech given to the Ontario Historical Society of Windsor in June of 1904 by Lt. Col. H. C. Rogers, President of the Peterborough Historical Society. This document was written by Paudash and his father Robert, and outlines the history of the Mississauga peoples and how they travelled from Algonquin to defeat the Mohawk and
settle in Nogojiwanong (the place at the end of the rapids), known today as Peterborough. When they settled there, both the Mohawks and the Mississaugas are recognized for putting their differences aside, and creating a treaty which would allow them to live peacefully, intermarrying and integrating their communities. Robert Paudash then added that the reserves at Moose Point near Parry Sound, Ontario had served for the British government, just as he and his family did. As
such, he believed that they deserve some of the same treatment and respect from the government that his own reserve had gotten. This document further establishes the care and respect that the Paudash Chiefs of the Mississauga peoples had for all indigenous peoples.

Paudash on the far right with other snipers. Image courtesy of Brian Paudash, available through The 21st Battalion CEF website.

Paudash is recognized through the Highway of Heroes as a legacy of this country. He proudly fought alongside Canadian soldiers, even though indigenous peoples were exempt from conscription and were not required to fight. A tree has been planted along the Highway of Heroes in the name of Johnson Paudash, with a memorial tribute written by his great granddaughter, Susie Rucska. There are also a number of tributes online for Paudash, described as a gentle and friendly man who always had stories to tell. Paudash passed away of natural causes on October 26th, 1959, 41 years after he returned home from the war. It is noted that in his final hospital visit during his wartime service on 23 October 1918, it was recorded that he suffered from an accelerated pulse due to what was believed to be nervousness, and that he had developed a cardiac condition due to neurosis. Paudash is buried at the Riverside Cemetery in Lindsay, Ontario.

By the time Paudash passed away, the Hiawatha Reserve had purchased sacred burial land from the city of Peterborough in order to properly respect and preserve this land. Soon after, it was turned into a Provincial Park. Ultimately due to the actions and advocacy of the Paudash family over generations, the Hiawatha reserve finally became self-governing and no longer requires the control of an Indian Agent as of 1966-67. This allowed the Chief of the reserve and their elected council to make their own decisions. This was a significant victory for the Hiawatha reserve, the Mississauga Peoples, and in turn, the Paudash warriors from generation to generation.

Research by Dorothy Cheng and Ocean Woodcock

Ajax Public Library Digital Archive, COM1945VOL3NO11. "Paudash, Johnson." World Wars Aboriginal Veterans. Accessed November
02, 2017.
Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 7655 – 45.
Paudash, Brian. "Johnson Paudash MM." 21st Battalion. Accessed November 02, 2017.
Paudash, Robert, and Johnson Paudash. "The Story of Paudash." A History of the Rice Lake
Indians. Accessed November 02, 2017.
Rucska, Susie . "Chief Johnson Paudash." Highway of Heroes Living Tribute. Accessed
November 02, 2017.
Tracey, Lisa . "Johnson Paudash Funeral." Accessed November 02, 2017.