A journey to Canada’s most prominent and solemn monument
By Craig Allan, Staff Writer
Remembrance Day is an important day in Canada. It is more than just a day off, or an assembling at 11 am for a moment of silence. It’s about remembering the people who have died—in not just the World Wars, but all the other conflicts Canada has been involved with in our history.
In 2013, after a Remembrance Day ceremony, I looked at Canada’s military history and realized that the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge was going to be in 2017. Vimy Ridge is where the monument dedicated to Canada’s World War I soldiers is located. With three and a half years to go, I decided to begin saving up to go to what I was sure would be one of the biggest events in Canadian history. A truly fantastic way to pay my respects. Three and a half years of saving up worked, and I was able to book the trip. But my trip didn’t start out as I had hoped.
Because Vimy Ridge and the town associated with it, Vimy, did not have any amenities, I had to stay in a nearby town called Beaumont-Hamel. This would turn out to be a terrible and almost trip destroying decision. When I booked it, I had no idea where the majority of the events were going to be held. I later found out that they would be held in Arras, more than 20 kilometres away from Hénin-Beaumont. To take a taxi from my hotel to downtown Arras costed €60 for a one-way trip, or about $120 Canadian. Realizing I was going to run out of money before the end of the trip, I decided to take the train on the Saturday.
After some trouble with the train and going in the opposite direction I didn’t get to my destination until 1 pm. I knew this would not be sustainable and put my entire trip at risk. I went to Arras town hall, they referred me to a program they had where families in the region take in Canadian travelers. I met up with a family and made the decision to stay with them for the duration of the trip. I have never forgotten the kindness they showed me during my time in Arras. From driving me around to various places like the Canadian War Cemetery, the downtown, and the Vimy Ridge Museum—they went above and beyond. Something that happened 100 years ago still has the power to bring people together, and such a connection is great.
April 9 was the day of the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. In riding up to the monument on the buses, I realized that Vimy Ridge was not just the monument; the whole grounds are dedicated to Canada’s sacrifices in the war. The land is filled with deep craters left from land mines that were never filled. They use goats to keep the grass short because there are still possible active land mines on the grounds leading to the monument.
My seat was just right of centre to the monument, so I had a great seat for the whole ceremony. The monument itself is beautiful. The details of the solemn angels and the names of all the soldiers who fell was a powerful sight. The ceremony was dignified and impactful, with stories of soldiers on the front being retold between speeches from dignitaries like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and British monarch Prince Charles.
Attending the centennial was one of the greatest moments of my life. The Battle of Vimy Ridge is one of the most important pillars of the founding of Canada’s identity. It was the first time all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force participated in a battle together. Two score and 10 years after Canadian confederation, Canada’s involvement in World War I established Canada as a nation on the world stage. The monument is a stunning representation of that and was worth all of the saving I did for three and a half years.