Mo­men­tous oc­ca­sions

Canada's History - - EDITOR’S NOTE -

On April 9, more than fifty thou­sand peo­ple are ex­pected to gather at the Vimy Memo­rial in France to mark the cen­ten­nial of the start of the Bat­tle of Vimy Ridge. A month later, Mon­tréal will kick off a months-long cel­e­bra­tion of its 375th birth­day.

At first glance, these events seem to share little in com­mon. But both are sto­ries of sur­vival against tremen­dous odds — and each event presents chal­lenges re­gard­ing how best to com­mem­o­rate it.

Cap­tur­ing Vimy was a re­mark­able achieve­ment — some­thing nei­ther the British nor the French were able to ac­com­plish. The bat­tle was the first time all four Cana­dian di­vi­sions fought to­gether as one in the First World War.

Af­ter the war, some peo­ple said Vimy was where Canada “came of age” as a na­tion.

How­ever, Vimy’s legacy must be ex­am­ined in the larger con­text of the First World War. While the bat­tle it­self was a suc­cess, Vimy didn’t sig­nif­i­cantly change the course of the con­flict. And the sheer num­ber of ca­su­al­ties — more than 10,600 Cana­di­ans wounded or killed over four days of fight­ing — casts a pall over any urge to cel­e­brate the vic­tory.

Mean­while, in May, Mon­tréal will cel­e­brate the an­niver­sary of the city’s found­ing in 1642.

Es­tab­lished in the heart of hos­tile Iro­quois ter­ri­tory, Ville-Marie was for­tu­nate to last a year, let alone 375.

Mon­tréal’s for­tunes have fluc­tu­ated over the years. From the fur trade era, to the in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion, and up un­til the 1970s, Mon­tréal was ar­guably Canada’s leading city.

And yet, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that Mon­tréal’s early years as Ville-Marie were scarred by nearly cease­less con­flicts with the Indige­nous peoples of the re­gion. The Iro­quois in par­tic­u­lar re­jected the ar­rival of French Catholic colonists and their claims to tra­di­tional Iro­quois ter­ri­to­ries. To­day, the peoples of the Hau­denosaunee Con­fed­er­acy take a very dif­fer­ent view of Mon­tréal 375, and many won’t be cel­e­brat­ing.

From Vimy Ridge to Mon­tréal 375, to the loom­ing 150th an­niver­sary of Con­fed­er­a­tion, 2017 is filled with a se­ries of na­tional mile­stones: mo­ments of tri­umph and loss, of na­tion- mak­ing — and of na­tion-tak­ing.

Whether you cel­e­brate, com­mem­o­rate, or mourn these events will de­pend very much on your per­spec­tive.

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