52 Ancestors – Week 4 – Joseph Pelletier (the Carnegie Hero)

This week in Amy Johnson Crow’s genealogist challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, I am going to write about my mother’s side of the family. Being the ‘baby’ of the family I have missed meeting many of my older relatives simply because I am the age of many of my nephews and nieces, as a consequence, many events that my siblings have been privy to have happened long before I was born.

Today, I am going to write about one of my uncles, Joseph Pelletier (1947-1973). Joey was born the second last of my mother’s siblings, eleven children in total. My mother and her siblings, including Joey, grew up on a Blackfoot reserve in southern Alberta.

Being Aboriginal children in the 1930s-1960s they would have been required to have attended Indian Residential School. I do not know much about their lives during their childhood and youth as there are only three of the eleven siblings alive today, including my mother, and I believe this reflects on the harsh lives they lived. I can only speculate, based on my studies and work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, on the treatment of my mother’s siblings in the residential school system. My mother is lucky, she can remember mostly good memories of her time at Crowfoot IRS either because her experience was better than most or because she has blocked any painful memories out for good reason. Anyway I am getting off topic- more on Indian Residential Schools in a future post.

On the morning of 29 Jul 1973, while swimming in the Bow River, 10-year-old Thelma A. Wells, became caught in the revolving current over a hole in the river bottom and called for help. Joey, my uncle, having heard her cries, entered the water fully clothed and swam to her. A struggle ensued; and both were submerged briefly several times. Joey called for assistance. His younger brother, Robert, entered the water and swam to them. While Robert was able to take Thelma safely to the bank, Joey floundered in the spinning current over the hole and drowned before help reached him.

The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission awarded Joey the bronze Carnegie Medal in recognition of his outstanding act of heroism. The purpose of the Carnegie Hero Fund is to award individuals in the United States and Canada who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save the lives of others.

pelletier joey newspaper

c.1973 (Calgary)

Above is a clipping from a newspaper, most likely from Calgary, that was with the Carnegie award certificate in our basement. I do not know what has happened to the bronze metal itself because we do not have it. I can only hope one of my aunts have it in their possession otherwise it has been lost, most likely when the government seized my grandmother’s property when she passed away in 1990. I am tempted to contact the Carnegie Hero Fund to see whether a replacement medal can be given to the family again. Couldn’t hurt to ask anyway.

c. 1962

c. 1962

While I do not know much of my uncle Joey this act of bravery makes me wish I could have known him during his brief life. One of the rare photos I have in my possession shows a smiling young man full of life– even a bit of a comedian, but who isn’t at 15? I wish I had more photos of him as well as other members of my family whose faces are now lost to memory and time. This is why I treasure the photos, documents, and artifacts I am able to get my hands on. It is important to me to discover and uncover as much information as I can about my family- the more I get to know them the more I get to know myself.

3 thoughts on “52 Ancestors – Week 4 – Joseph Pelletier (the Carnegie Hero)

  1. Pingback: 52 Ancestors: Week 4 Recap | No Story Too Small
    • With so little information I have to work with it’s nice to know that I could find something on his good deed and that it can also be found on the Carnegie website.

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