Saanich remembers dog who led local war effort

Muggins raised money for Red Cross during First World War

Jean Hughes

He might have been the most famous character in Victoria from 1914-18, the stuff of legend.

Muggins the wonder dog would sit at the corner of Belleville and Government, where passersby would drop coins, or bills, into a money box hanging from his neck. He was born around 1913 and believed to be just seven years old when he died in 1920, Muggins the fluffy white spitz was stuffed, and his legend carried on.

The dog wasn’t just famous, he was a treasure with a status high above that of other Victoria canines. When the pound tried to lock him up, the townspeople gathered and demanded his release.

“He had a route that he would wander along and people would put money in his money box, $20,000,” said Dr. Sylvia Van Kirk, president of the Victoria Historical Society.

Van Kirk has been uncovering the many tales of Muggins’ fundraising for a year.

“He raised money for the Red Cross during the [First World] War and for the veterans’ associations and more,” she said.

The retired professor of history at University of Toronto presented the story of Muggins at the Centennial Library on Oct. 16 as part of the Saanich Remembers WWI project.

Muggins was the family dog of Laverne Woodward on Gorge Road. Though he was stuffed, and continued to raise money right up until the Second World War, that version of Muggins also deteriorated (the pelt lived on and was a foot warmer on a family descendant’s bed).

Van Kirk has assembled a rich gathering of newspaper articles and other Muggins-related artifacts complete with a new, stuffed likeness of Muggins the spitz.

Just days prior to Friday’s gathering, Saanich’s Jean Hughes, the great niece of Woodward, came forward with eight unique medals that had been awarded to Muggins from institutions such as the American and French Red Cross, the Esquimalt Military Hospital and others.

“It’s very exciting to have such a find,” Van Kirk said. “We’re very lucky to have so much of his storied archived from past newspaper stories and obituaries [by UVic].”

Hughes also turned in the 95-year-old letters that came with the medals.

It’s likely the collection will be left in the care of Saanich Archives located within Centennial Library.

“I had heard of Muggins but I didn’t know too much,” said Hughes.

One of the most revealing photos to come forward is of Muggins meeting the Prince of Wales in 1919. He’s also been photographed with Sir Arthur Currie and in a special War Veterans’ fund raising stand built just for Muggins at the corner of Belleville and Government, following the First World War.

“He greeted the pacific liners and other dignitaries when they visited,” Van Kirk said. “When [the Second World War] started, his “display case” went back into the window to raise money once again.

For news and Saanich Remembers project updates visit the Saanich Archives Facebook page.