The Taylor Family of Curve Lake

Many Indigenous men volunteered for service in the First World war, despite not being recognized as Canadian citizens. Given their comparatively small population, they volunteered to fight for the empire in disproportionately high numbers, contrasting to Canadians of European descent. Indigenous men were universally recognized as having excellent soldering skills. More specifically, they were talented marksmen and displayed proficient battlecraft skills due to their experience hunting on the land. Often employed as scouts and snipers, their skills were most beneficial to the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Frequently, Indigenous men experienced difficulty in the enlistment process as a result of discriminatory policies and colonial oppression.Curve Lake First Nation, an Anishnabek reserve, located on the shores of Chemong Lake, was no exception to the enthusiasm for the First World War. With 100% enlistment of military aged men from the community, Curve Lake’s contribution was indicative of Indigenous loyalty to the Crown, and their willingness to join the fighting overseas. For example, the Taylor family, saw five of its sons enlist between March and May of 1916, joining the ranks of the 93rd Battalion in Peterborough. From youngest to oldest, the Taylor brothers include: Horace (17), Hiram (22), William the 3rd (28), Isaac (32) and Samuel (33). Isaac Taylor, the second oldest of the five brothers, had previously served in the Canadian military for 3 years prior to the outbreak of World War One in the 34th Regiment. The youngest of the five brothers, Horace Dean Taylor enlisted at 17 years of age.

Photo dated 1916, five brothers from the Taylor family: Horace, Hiram, Samuel and William the 3rd. It is unknown which brother is which, ages range from the oldest Samuel at 33, to the youngest Horace, just under 18. Photo courtesy of Anne Taylor, Curve Lake Cultural Heritage Center.

By volunteering for service in World War One, the Taylor family lived up to their end of colonial treaties, which served Canada’s newly claimed Crown land. Indigenous men, like the Taylor family, struggled to  accepted for military duty in the First World War because they were not yet recognized by the Crown as citizens of Canada. Attestation papers include notes from the Commanding Officer(s) required for First Nations approval, such as: “Hiram Taylor having finally been approved and inspected...I certify that I am satisfied with the correctness of this Attestation”.
Such paperwork also included aspects of ethnic profiling, for example, Indigenous men were asked to give their ‘Christian name’ and religion in order to be considered fit for duty. In order to be considered for military service, Indigenous men had to conform to colonial expectations and standards, specifically, those pertaining to the Indian Act and imposed by the British Crown. In many cases, Indigenous men hoped that military service would result in their enfranchisement and citizenship. Likewise, the Indigenous narrative of the time differed much from that of their Euro-Canadian counterparts, who were automatically granted citizenship due to their ethnic background, making the process of enlisting in the First World War far less problematic. Several additional members of the Taylor family, aside from the five brothers, also served in World War One, most notably Private Chas Taylor who was an uncle of the Taylor brothers. Pte Taylor returned home in June of 1917 after being seriously wounded by a German shell at the battle for Vimy Ridge while serving with the Western Ontario Battalion. His injuries resulted in the loss of one of his legs and an eye for the Empire. Isaac Taylor, second oldest of the five brothers, was killed in action in the Arras sector on January 8th, 1917 while serving with the 18th battalion of the Western Ontario Regiment. Isaac is buried in France at Barlin Community Cemetery in the Pas De Calais. Two of the remaining brothers, Horace and William, went on to serve during the Second World War. All of the Taylor brothers, with the exception of Isaac, returned home from war and went on to live long lives.

Dated 1916, the five Taylor boys, along with parents William and Mary (Yellowhead) Taylor. Photo courtesy of Anne Taylor, Curve Lake Cultural Heritage Center.

The Taylor brothers' service represents just one chapter in the family’s long history of service to Canada. Members of the Taylor family have served in all major conflicts in which the country has been involved, spanning the War of 1812 through to the war in Afghanistan. It is vitally important to recognize Indigenous contributions to the First World War like that of the Taylor Family because despite their treatment by the country, and in some cases the misgivings of their own communities, they still volunteered. Although their service in the Great War did a great deal to advance Indigenous recognition in Canadian society, Indigenous men experienced unequal treatment when they returned home from the war. This was especially true with regards to the lack of veteran’s benefits they received in comparison to other veterans. Consequently, many turned to alcohol as a means to cope with the physical and mental trauma they experienced during the war. Along with the Taylor family, it is estimated that 4000 Indigenous men served during the First World War, many distinguishing themselves, winning decorations for bravery. This substantial and meaningful contribution by Indigenous communities to the First World War stands as a testament of their service to a country that did not treat them equally.

Research by Cort McCall and MaryJane Proulx

Anne Taylor (lead archivist at Curve Lake Cultural Heritage Centre), in discussion. October 24th 2017. Curve Lake Cultural Heritage Centre.
About us: Curve Lake. Curve Lake First Nation.
Canada. "Soldiers of the First World War (1914-1918)." Record Group 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 4930 - 35. Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.
“Indians Eager to Join Forces: Intense Loyalty to British of Canadian Native Races”. The Peterborough Examiner. January 22nd, 1915. Accessed October 31st 2017, Trent Valley Archives, Peteborough, Ontario, Canada.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. Government of Canada.                        
“More Soldiers Are Back From Overseas Service”. The Peterborough Examine. June 6th, 1911. Accessed October 31st 2017, Trent Valley Archives, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.
Photos courtesy of Anne Taylor, lead archivist at Curve Lake Cultural Heritage Centre
Veterans Affair Canada. Canadian Virtual War Memorial: Isaac Taylor.