David Kejick

David Kejick (also spelled Kisek, Kesick and Keejick), DCM, Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) trapper, guide, soldier, war hero and chief (born 20 June 1896 at Shoal Lake First Nations Community, ON; died 1 March 1969 at Shoal Lake). Kejick served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) during the First World War and received the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for his heroic actions in battle during the closing weeks of the war.



David Kejick (standing) with Moses Land, c. 1916.

First World War

David Kejick was from Shoal Lake First Nation, Ontario, officially known today by its traditional name Iskatewizaagegan #39 Independent First Nation. Kejick enlisted in Kenora, Ontario, under the name “Kisek” on 26 September 1916 in the 141st (Rainy River District) Battalion (Border Bull-Moose). The unit was based in Fort Frances with recruiting offices in Fort William and Port Arthur, Ontario (amalgamated as Thunder Bay in 1970). Kejick and other Kenora volunteers were sent to Port Arthur in August 1916 where they trained over the fall and winter.

In April 1917, the battalion left Port Arthur by train for Halifax on the first leg of its journey overseas. It sailed from Halifax on 28 April 1917 aboard the SS Olympic and landed in the British port of Liverpool on 7 May. On arrival, Kejick and the soldiers of the 141st Battalion were absorbed into the 18th Reserve Battalion to provide reinforcements for the Canadian Corps in the field (see Canadian Expeditionary Force). For the next five months, the men trained in Britain.

Kejick was next transferred to 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion, a unit raised in Northwestern Ontario. He landed in France on 27 September 1917. Like all new soldiers arriving there, he was sent to a Canadian Corps Base Depot and the newly created Canadian Corps Reinforcement Camp before being sent to his unit in the field. On 4 November, he joined the 52nd Battalion, which was assigned to 9th Infantry Brigade in 3rd Canadian Division.

At the time, the 52nd Battalion was in the Ypres Salient in Belgium, where it was involved in the massive struggle to capture Passchendaele Ridge (see Canada and the Battle of Passchendaele). That battle has come to represent the horrible conditions under which Canadian soldiers lived, fought and died during the First World War. The unit had suffered heavy losses during the long battle and Kejick arrived in a reinforcement draft. After the Ridge had been captured, the battalion did another tour in the frontline trenches and suffered more casualties in what was Kejick’s introduction to battle.

After Passchendaele, the Canadian Corps departed from the Ypres Salient and moved south to the area of Lens in France (see Battle for Hill 70). There, it spent the winter and spring holding a long section of the frontline. Although the Canadian Corps did not participate in any major battles, the 52nd and other battalions rotated regularly through the frontline trenches between periods of reserve, rest, patrols and raids. When summer arrived, the soldiers underwent training in the new tactics of open warfare and working with tanks and airplanes. Then, in early August, the Corps moved to the Amiens area of France in preparation for the final assaults of the war.

National Aboriginal Veterans Monument, Ottawa

Monument dedicated to Indigenous soldiers who fought in the First World War and Second World War for Canada.

Distinguished Conduct Medal

Canada’s Hundred Days” was the period from 8 August to 11 November 1918, when the Canadian Corps led the successful Allied advance from Amiens to Mons, Belgium. It was marked by a series of epic battles, among them Amiens, the Drocourt-Quéant Line, the Canal du Nord, the Hindenburg Line, Cambrai, Valenciennes and Mons. Together, these battles stand today as the greatest feat of arms in the history of the Canadian Army.

Kejick helped to establish this amazing accomplishment and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for his bravery during the Hundred Days. On 1 October 1918, only six weeks before the Armistice of 11 November, “He displayed marked courage and headwork during the attack on enemy positions” on a high ridge of ground east of Tilloy-les-Cambrai on Day 55 of the Hundred Days. That day also marked the official end of the battle to cross the partially completed Canal du Nord, which began on 27 September.

The citation for Kejick’s award noted, “When his company was held up by heavy fire, he on his own initiative ran into the open, and, with his Lewis gun at the hip, fired four pans [top-mounted, 47-round magazines] into the enemy machine guns. His fire was so effective that a party of the company on the right were able to advance and capture the four machine guns, together with about seventy prisoners, amongst whom was an enemy officer. He did splendid work.” The actions east of Tilloy-les-Cambrai marked the only achievement of significance that day.

Post-War Life

Kejick received his Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) in Belgium on 13 December 1918, while waiting for repatriation (return to Canada). First, he returned to Britain on 10 February 1919. Next, he embarked on the SS Olympic (sister ship of the ill-fated Titanic) in Southampton on 17 March. When the 52nd arrived in Port Arthur, Ontario, there was a huge reception for its soldiers and the unit was demobilized there on 31 March. The Port Arthur reception was followed by another one for the Kenora veterans in Kenora on 1 April. It was held in the Tourist Hotel with more than 200 returned veterans in attendance.

Kejick returned to Shoal Lake, where he worked as a fishing guide and raised a family of five children. He was known as a kind and humble man, who was always willing to help those less fortunate. Kejick was an active community member. Like his father, he was elected chief of the Shoal Lake First Nation and served for three terms, from May 1935 to June 1944. During the 1939 Royal Visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Canada, Kejick was presented to Their Majesties in Winnipeg, attired in his “aboriginal finery of buckskin fringes and ermine tails” and standing “six-foot-six in his moccasins.” Hidden beneath the folds of his clothing was his DCM.


Descendants of David Kejick gather at the renaming of the Kenora Armoury in his honour, Kenora, Ontario, 29 September 2018


Memory

David Kejick was one of the most highly decorated Indigenous soldiers of the First World War. The village of Kejick, as well as the school and post office in Shoal Lake, were named in his honour. Kejick is also commemorated on the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) Veteran Heroes plaque at the Ne-Chee Friendship Centre in Kenora, ON. In September 2018, the armoury in Kenora was renamed the Private David Kejick, DCM, Armoury in recognition of his being the highest-decorated soldier from the Kenora area.


Further Reading

  • Tim Cook, At the Sharp End: Canadians Fighting the Great War, 1914–1916 (2007).

    Tim Cook, Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting the Great War, 1917–1918 (2008).

    P. Whitney Lackenbauer and Craig Leslie Mantle, eds., Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian Military: Historical Perspectives (2007).

    Timothy Winegard, For King and Kanata: Canadian Indians and the First World War (2012).

External Links