Vimy Ridge was Canada’s ‘com­ing of age’

FIRST WORLD WAR: His­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance high­lighted as coun­try’s 150th and battle’s cen­te­nary co­in­cide

The Province - - News - NI­COLE THOMP­SON

The hype sur­round­ing Canada’s 150th birth­day has shone a spot­light on the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Three-quar­ters of Cana­di­ans say they be­lieve the cen­ten­nial an­niver­sary of Vimy Ridge should be one of the most im­por­tant cel­e­bra­tions dur­ing Canada’s 150th birth­day, ac­cord­ing to the poll re­leased by Ip­sos Reid for the Vimy Foun­da­tion.

The poll presents a stark con­trast to one re­leased by the foun­da­tion a year ago, which showed that more than half of Cana­di­ans didn’t know in which war Vimy was fought — in fact, nine per cent of peo­ple thought it was a Canadian moun­tain range.

The two polls asked dif­fer­ent ques­tions — how im­por­tant the cen­ten­nial should be and which war Vimy was part of — but Vimy Foun­da­tion direc­tor Jeremy Di­a­mond says that all fin­gers point to an in­creased aware­ness in the battle’s im­por­tance, par­tic­u­larly as it gets closer to 2017.

“I think a lot of Cana­di­ans are start­ing to think about Canada 150 now,” Di­a­mond says.

“It’s only two years away, so peo­ple hear about it more. There’s more com­mer­cials now, more things on­line try­ing to mo­bi­lize peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties. So peo­ple are con­nect­ing Vimy 100 to Canada’s 150th.”

The Battle of Vimy Ridge, which took place dur­ing the First World War from April 9 to 12, 1917, saw 3,600 Cana­di­ans killed.

An ad­di­tional 10,600 were wounded. It was one of Canada’s first great mil­i­tary vic­to­ries, and some his­to­ri­ans call it our coun­try’s “com­ing of age.” Canada shares its 150th birth­day year with the cen­ten­nial an­niver­sary of the battle.

Mark Humphries, direc­tor at the Cen­tre for Mil­i­tary Strate­gic and Dis­ar­ma­ment Stud­ies at Wil­frid Lau­rier Uni­ver­sity, says that many Cana­di­ans rec­og­nize Vimy as an im­por­tant sym­bol in our his­tory, though they may not know ex­actly why that is.

This could ex­plain why more peo­ple be­lieve its cen­ten­nial should be cel­e­brated than know which war it was a part of, he says. Though Vimy was not a strate­gic victory in the war — it was a part of a larger se­ries of bat­tles — it was im­por­tant for the sol­diers who fought there.

Humphries says he has walked through tun­nels at Vimy that hadn’t been opened since the war ended.

He saw sol­diers’ names and home­towns, carved into the walls.

“In one place there was a lit­tle, tiny maple leaf,” he says.

Those sol­diers, he says, felt they were part of some­thing big.

And that’s the mes­sage they brought back with them.

“It’s some­thing that has been passed down, in some cases, through grand­fa­thers and great-grand­fa­thers who fought. And in other cases, it’s some­thing that’s been taught through the cit­i­zen­ship guide, for new­com­ers to Canada,” Di­a­mond says.

The Vimy Foun­da­tion has a num­ber of cam­paigns to ed­u­cate peo­ple about Vimy. One of their big­gest is the an­nual trip to Vimy for high school stu­dents.

The foun­da­tion tries to make the ed­u­ca­tion per­sonal.

Stu­dents are en­cour­aged to visit their lo­cal war me­mo­rial, pick out a sol­dier’s name and learn about that sol­dier’s life.

If the stu­dents are able to go to the bat­tle­field, they’ll get to find the sol­dier’s grave.

“It’s im­por­tant to speak to a gen­er­a­tion that may not re­al­ize that some­thing that hap­pened a hun­dred years ago is rel­e­vant to their lives,” Di­a­mond says.

Humphries says the ef­fects of the Great War on Canada still res­onate.

“It forced Cana­di­ans to ask some very dif­fi­cult ques­tions about what Canada was and what it was go­ing to be,” he says.

He says we’re still ask­ing those same ques­tions to­day.

The poll is con­sid­ered ac­cu­rate within plus-or-mi­nus 3.5 per cent, 95 per cent of the time.

— NA­TIONAL AR­CHIVES OF CANADA FILES

Canadian ma­chine gun­ners dig them­selves into shell holes on Vimy Ridge, circa April 1917. Three­quar­ters of Cana­di­ans say they be­lieve the cen­ten­nial an­niver­sary of Vimy Ridge should be one of the most im­por­tant cel­e­bra­tions dur­ing our coun­try’s 150th birth­day.

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