KAHNAWAKE, Que. — The medal awarded to a battle-scarred First World War soldier has been returned, almost a century later, to his family in the Mohawk community where he lived.
In 1919, Pte. James Beauvais returned from Europe with shrapnel in his chest and limited use of his left arm. Like all victorious Canadian and British soldiers, he was awarded a Victory Medal before being discharged.
The postwar period was filled with tragedy.
He suffered from chronic physical pain and emotional anguish that would be described today as post-traumatic stress disorder. Back in those days it was called, “shell shock.”
He abandoned his wife and young daughter and drifted out West. Within a decade Beauvais was dead. He was buried in a modest grave, more than 2,000 kilometres from home.
Now his medal has completed a long journey home.
It was returned several weeks ago to his great-niece, Lynn Beauvais, at the Royal Canadian Legion branch in Kahnawake, Que.
The story of its path home includes a motorcycle club and eBay.
Normand Carrieres, a part-Wendat who rolls as a part-time biker in the Rolling Thunder club, routinely checks the online auction sites for bike parts, medals and military memorabilia.
The medal, listed “WW1 Victory Medal to Native Canadian, Pte. James Beauvais,” jumped out. He had read Johnny Beauvais’ book Kahnawake: A Mohawk Look at Canada, Adventures of Big John Canadian. Beauvais is a common name in Kahnawake.
“When I saw this medal on eBay, I also saw a missing link in Kahnawake, and I also saw the name Beauvais,” Carrieres said.
“My first thought was to keep this medal in Canada. Second, find his family. And if I didn’t find anybody interested by the medal or by Beauvais himself, my intention was to bury the medal somewhere in the cemetery in order to keep his spirit among his nearest ones.”
His motorcycle club, Rolling Thunder, is closely tied to veterans’ causes. Through the club, Carrieres developed a kinship with a number of aboriginal veterans across North America. They included Gene Montour, the district commander of the Kahnawake Legion branch.
Carrieres won the medal with four seconds left in the eBay auction, outbidding Brian Goodleaf. It just so happens that the Kahnawake auto-dealership owner had planned to donate the medal to the Legion.
Dave Thomson of St. George, Ont., had tipped off Goodleaf about the medal.