Vimy Ridge was Canada’s ‘coming of age’
FIRST WORLD WAR: Historical significance highlighted as country’s 150th and battle’s centenary coincide
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.
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.