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War Hero’s Medals Back In Manitoba

Sgt. Tommy Prince, who became Canada’s most decorated aboriginal war veteran, is briefed before going out on patrol in Korea.

“He volunteered to wear the uniform of Canada in both WW II and the Korean War, in spite of the fact that he was treated as a second-class citizen. He acquitted himself with valour and honour, and died forgotten and scorned by the very people he had fought (for) so long and hard.”

These are the words a participant in the Our Heroes online survey ( used to back his nomination for Canadian hero. He voted for Tommy Prince. Prince, an Ojibwa from the Brokenhead First Nation, in Scanterbury, Man., southeast of Winnipeg, is Canada’s most-decorated aboriginal war veteran.

Though unfamiliar to many, Prince’s name made headlines across the country recently when his military medals went on auction. News of the upcoming sale had been circulating for weeks, most markedly in Prince’s home province where his descendants rallied to obtain funds to buy the medals back.

With the help of donations from aboriginal groups, individuals across the country and a personal contribution from Veterans Affairs Minister Ron Duhamel they were successful, obtaining the medals with a bid of $75,000. Some branches of The Royal Canadian Legion also offered support.

After their purchase at the auction held in London, Ont., the medals arrived in Winnipeg amid great fanfare. Following a brief respite in Prince’s home province, they were sent to the Canadian War Museum and the Canadian Conservation Institute to verify their authenticity. Microscopic analysis proved them genuine.

How the medals hit the open market is a mystery in itself. At one time it was believed that Prince’s original medals were destroyed in a house fire and later replaced with replicas. It was rumoured Prince, who battled alcoholism prior to his death in 1977 at the age of 62, pawned them to finance his life on the streets of Winnipeg.

Following the confirmation of the medals’ authenticity, the Prince Medals Committee issued a press release attempting to shed light on the medals’ whereabouts for the past 25 years. “It is…probable that the medals came into the possession of another party or parties and Prince simply lost track of them as his personal circumstances deteriorated,” said the statement.

The medals first surfaced four years ago when they were bought by a Nova Scotia collector for $17,000. In an interview with the Halifax Herald, Sandy Campbell of Proof Positive Coins Ltd., who originally purchased the medals for the client, whom he wouldn’t name, said part of the reason he decided to sell was because of the uproar in Manitoba’s aboriginal community about their ownership. Prior to the auction, Campbell estimated the medals could net as much as $100,000.

The family has vowed to share the medals with the general public. They are currently being held at the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature where they are expected to be displayed.

Prince began his wartime service in 1940 as a sapper with the Royal Canadian Engineers. In 1942, he volunteered as a paratrooper and later served with the First Special Service Force, unofficially known to the German forces as the Devil’s Brigade.

The 10 medals, earned during WW II and the Korean War, include the King George Military Medal presented to Prince at Buckingham Palace by King George VI and the U.S. Silver Star, one of 59 awarded to Canadians during


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