A tribute to Joseph Bernard Hill

To honour National Indigenous Peoples’ Day on June 21, we share the words of one of our Beaverbrook Vimy Prize alumni, Andrew Yin of Ontario.

While researching for the 2016 Beaverbrook Vimy Prize, I learnt about Joseph Bernard Hill, a First Nations man who fought in the First World War who was killed in September 1918. In August 2016, during the program in France, I visited the Ontario Cemetery, where Joseph was buried, to commemorate his life. It was a powerful experience that left a lasting impact on me. I would like to share my feelings in a tribute to Joseph Bernard Hill.

2016. Here I stand, in front of you. By stumbling upon your name, a journey through history, through your life, had commenced.

1914. September. The atmosphere was increasingly tense, as Canada was obligated to join the war. However, there was also a sense of patriotism; you, as a First Nations man, were prepared and ready to fight for your country.

1915. March. You were 19, not much older than I am right now. You were finally allowed to enlist into the military, with the service number 89648. Away from your homeland, you went sailing with thousands of men across the Atlantic towards a foreign land.

1918. September 30th. Three-and-a-half years after your enlistment. The armistice was about to be called; however, it was one month too late. In Northern France, you were part of a courageous group of Canadians who slowly advanced despite being under intense fire. Unfortunately, on this fateful day, you were stuck by a bullet.

1918, 22 years old. You became a part of the 60,000 Canadians, including the 300 Aboriginal men, whose lives were forever laid far away from home. However, through your sacrifice, you have proven to the rest of Canada that as a First Nations person, you deeply cared about your country. You helped Canada to march a small step forward. Your name, forever inscribed on a gravestone in Northern France, bears testimony to your determination and perseverance, silently but powerfully inspiring your next generation; you had made a lasting impact on your community.

2016. Joseph, your contributions have not been forgotten. I followed a journey through your life, a story of courage and grit. Now, it has a deeper significance to me. Inspired by you, I know that I shall never give up on the road to reach my goals, no matter how difficult it may be. I will keep fighting my battle, as long as I can.

Your sacrifice is a lesson for us to respect. You enlisted during a period of rampant discrimination towards your people; however, you have proven that these were unjustified. A respect towards Aboriginal Canadians is long overdue.

Finally, because of you, I asked myself: what can I do to make Canada a better place? I am part of a fresh generation whose actions will determine the Canada of tomorrow. Joseph, your noble actions inspire me to be more dedicated to making positive changes in my community.

Joseph Bernard Hill, a name that is inscribed on my heart. Today, I am here to appreciate and respect the life that you had sacrificed. I am here to thank you for inspiring me to share the torch of remembrance.

In November 2016, I visited the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, where Joseph lived, and donated a rubbing of Joseph’s headstone, bringing a part of him home. As a result of my Beaverbrook Vimy Prize journey, I have been sparked by the flame of remembrance, hoping to do my part in creating a better Canada for everyone.

(Read an article about Andrew’s visit to the MBQ Council.)

Joseph Bernard Hill, born November 26, 1895, to Joseph and Bernadetta Hill of Deseronto, Ontario. He was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field in July 1917, with the citation reading: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty at FARBUS on May 3rd 1917. This N.C.O. was in charge of the linesmen and kept patrolling the lines despite the intense enemy shell fire and not only supervised the repairing of the lines but also carried messages from the Brigade to the other Batteries whose lines were out. The lines were continuously being broken but communications were never lost for more than a few minutes at a time. Cpl. HILL by his splendid display of courage and coolness under heavy shell fire set a magnificient [sic] example to the men in his charge.” Killed on September 30, 1918.

View his Service Record here from Library and Archives Canada.