The Battle of Vimy Ridge: The Iconic Status
When I was writing the brochure content for the first tour in the WW1 100th Remembrance Program, I was debating between two different pictures of Mother Canada taken from our last tour to Vimy. I decided to look upon my roommate to help me make the ultimate decision, but her answer knocked my head for a complete loop, in which I don't think I have recovered from yet...
"What's that?" She asked, as I held the two pictures side by side. "That's at Vimy Ridge" I responded, after staring at her, mouth agape for a few seconds. "Where's that?" She asked again, sinking me lower into my seat.
I did everything I could to jog her memory, to urge her to see that she knew about this iconic statue which represented the monumental historic event that encapsultated our Canadian identity whole. I showed her our $20 bill, a pale image of Vimy's pillars standing in the background. I showed her the iconic picture of Hitler, visiting the memorial in 1940, who vowed to protect it even in times of the Second World War. Every Canadian should know what happened at Vimy Ridge. Everyone. The story itself should inspire every Canadian that anything is possible. We come from the land of the fighters. The under-dogs that proved to the world that we were a strong, fit nation, after two years of losing battles, could finally find successs where others had failed. More than any other battle of the First World War, none was more strategically significant, and more gloriously proved the capability, national pride, and identity of these young Canadian boys who had previously only known war from story books and the tales of history. We were no longer a collection of immigrants and provincials, but as a unified country with the ability to hold its own with the great powers of Europe. So why was Vimy so important? For those who aren't aware, the following facts may strike you as incredible. For those who are aware, this point by point list will overwhelmingly encapsulate everything you may have already known: 1. Here, was the first time that all four divisions of Canada would fight together.
2. Canadians were to succeed where others had failed. Where the French had tried time and time again to attack and regain the ridge, they had suffered a total of 140,000 casualties. The Canadians however, only needed 4 days with only 4,000 casualties lost. 3. It was also the first major victory the Canadian Corps had witnessed in the two years of heavy fighting and casualties lost. The key was in the extensive training, suppressing enemy fire, the experience of witnessing the effects of the devastating Battle of the Somme. However, the most important asset was unifying the Canadian force in a single unified fighting force. The construction of the Vimy Ridge Memorial was also incredibly significant in and of itself. Built by our very own Toronto-born master sculptor Walter Allward, the Memorial still stands, fully intact, complete with the tunnels, trenches, and cemeteries all protected and maintained to this day, making the experience of visiting the Memorial all the more remarkable. In one of the greatest ironies of war, it was Hitler himself who ordered the standing guard of Waffen SS to protect the structure from bombing by either force, enemy or ally. Many First World War monuments on the Western Front were damaged or destroyed in the Second World War, however it is the VImy Memorial that survived completely intact and unblemished. Today the monument is one of the only two national historic sites outside of Canada. Recieving over 750,000 visitors a year, the pilgramage to northern France, to pay homage to the Canadians killed during the First World War is one of the most incredible journeys a Canadian may take in their lifetime. On April 9th, 2017, the Vimy Foundation of Canada is working on the creation of a new educational centre, to open duing the cermonies which will mark the 100th anniversary of battle.
Jeremy Diamond, campaign director of the Vimy Foundation in Montreal has never put it so eloquently "Once you're walking the fields and looking at the cemeteries and monuments, it is unlike any other experience you can have as a Canadian. That is why Vimy is such a draw, a visceral experience. You're walking on the same ground on which your fellow Canadians fought and were killed. For you." On April 9th, 2017, the Vimy Foundation of Canada is working on the creation of a new educational centre, to open duing the cermonies which will mark the 100th anniversary of battle. The new centre is said to be much more like a museum. A focus on Canad'as impact on the First World War, the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the building of the monument will be placed on the new educational centre. The Vimy Foundation is working to raise $5 million, to be matched with the Government of Canada to make way for $10 million in funding for the project. "We see it as an opportunity to increase visits to Vimy, and increase Canadians' understanding of our military history and the sacrifices of our soldiers in the First World War".
Judging by my very own roommate's impressions of the events, I think this is more than a fitting response. Now all I have to do is get her and other like her over there on our 2017 Tour!!!