May 28th, 2024

Legacy of Vimy Ridge remembered across Canada

By Lethbridge Herald on April 10, 2024.

Glenn Miller
For The Herald

Tuesday marked  Vimy Ridge Day and generations of Canadian have come to learn about the great victory of Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. This event was instrumental how our country gained a new sense of identity apart from our British sovereignty. The pride and legacy of Vimy Ridge was quickly established in Canada shortly after the battle. 

During the construction of the Parliament Buildings after the great fire, workers carved “Vimy” above one of the windows. Although not initially authorized, it was decided to complete the work while keeping the work completed in the style of the rest of the carvings at the time. It was the only “name” carved into the stone located outside of the parliament building and can be viewed once renovations are complete to the Centre Block of Parliament. The victory has evolved to become a proud part of our identity and heritage today. This has been preserved by those who were there and their children.

Across Canada, other communities wanted to show their patriotism of the victory at Vimy Ridge. North of Edmonton, a small hamlet was known as Dunrobin seized the opportunity to acknowledge the battle. The post office discovered that there was another Dunrobin elsewhere in Canada. It was suggested by a resident that they rename their community Vimy. Today, the Hamlet continues to use the name Vimy, honouring the legacy of Vimy Ridge. A mountain located in Waterton National Park soon bore the names Vimy Peak and Vimy Ridge.  

The commander of the Canadian Corps, British Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng, was beloved by Canadian troops for his style of leadership. Raised to the peerage after the war, he was titled 1st Viscount of Vimy and was later appointed Governor General of Canada from 1921 to 1926.

In 1936, the Canadian National Vimy Memorial was unveiled in France. The Memorial was erected in honour of Canadians who served and perished in the First World War. The names of 11,285 Canadian First World War servicemen with no known resting place in France have their names inscribed into the Memorial around the base. The following words accompany the names, “To the valour of their countrymen in the Great War and in memory of their sixty thousand dead this monument is raised by the people of Canada.” 

The memorial is adorned with twenty allegorical figures. Among them is a group known as “The Chorus.” They represent the virtues of Peace, Justice, Hope, Charity, Faith, Honour, Truth and Knowledge. Reaching upward with a torch, Peace is the highest figure on the monument.

Designed by Canadian sculptor and architect Walter Seymour Allward, the monument features two pylons that stand thirty metres high. With a maple leaf carved in one and a fleur-de-lis in the other, the pylons represent the sacrifices of people from Canada and France. Although the Vimy Memorial is not in Canada, it is on Canadian soil, granted by the Government of France to the people of Canada, for all time. Vimy Ridge is a 14-kilometre-long escarpment that overlooks the Douai plain of northern France, near the city of Arras. The Canadian National Vimy Memorial is located on the highest point of the ridge. It has since been declared a national historic site, located on the site where the battle took place.

Vimy Ridge in France has since been visited by generations of Canadians. Those who have walked the ground and experience the craters and trenches that remain, gain a better appreciation of the battle conditions. Now over a century later, to what extent can Canadians make a connection of the great battle in their daily lives? Since the veterans who captured the ridge went on to be guardians of Remembrance, we can take a moment to acknowledge how the legacy has continued to be honoured? Over time, Canadians found a variety of ways that are daily reminders. 

For Lethbridge students a number of field trips have taken place. Each trip they gained a visual and emotional sense of the battle that no book can duplicate. Future trips will show it is important to honour the legacy. 

The Vimy Foundation created the Vimy Pilgrimage Award (VPA) to recognize the actions of young people, ages 14-17, who are dedicated to the betterment of society. The foundation also created a medal and pin, based on the original 1936 pilgrimage medal presented to the original Pilgrims. 

For the 90th anniversary, Canada renovated and installed lights for night viewing of this esteemed Memorial. 

But what is the legacy of Vimy Ridge today in Canada, half a world away? Fortunately, the Government of Canada, Veterans Affairs, the Royal Canadian Leion Legion. the Vimy Foundation and Historica Canada among others, strive to bring awareness to this Canadian military history.  For example, a large emphasis was placed on the battle history was placed on their websites and in school information packages that were sent out across Canada prior to commemorating the 100th anniversary of the battle. This effort benefits current students. 

Today, the impact of the legacy may not be as noticeable in our normal daily lives compared to previous generations of Canadians who had family with firsthand knowledge. However, we subconsciously need to just be a little more observant in our daily surroundings. To help address the importance of the legacy of the battle of Vimy Ridge, new initiatives to educate Canadians have been launched to maintain the legacy.

Other notable Vimy reminders come from The Royal Canadian Mint who produced five million $2 coins to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in addition to other special collector coins. The Bank of Canada issued a $20 bill featuring the monument on the back. A page is dedicated in the Canadian passport.

Over the years, the Legacy of the battle has gained momentum in the hearts of Canadians across Canada. A variety of memorials across Canada related to Vimy Ridge. A number of streets, institutions, buildings, schools and a highway are just few of the items that can be considered a lasting legacy. A few of our national symbols, such as the previous edition of the Canadian passport, a page is dedicated to the Vimy Ridge monument. Our currency we use every day remind Canadians how we value the legacy of Vimy. 

Featured on the back of the Canadian Armed Forces Sacrifice medal is found the statue of Mother Canada mourning. Here in Lethbridge the Armory was renamed to Vimy Ridge Armory in 2001. A variety of military units and organizations have an annual Vimy Ridge dinner or gala. The Royal Canadian Legion created a pin featuring the Vimy Ridge memorial to commemorate the 100th anniversary. 

A book entitled VIMY! VALOUR! VICTORY! by Jean Miso was designed for students bringing the legacy to full life in colour and is used in schools and libraries across Canada. 

Last year the Legacy continued with Vimy Ridge Mountain gifted with a Blackfoot name during a special ceremony held on Indigenous Day (21 June 2023) at Waterton National Park in southern Alberta. This was an initiative of elder Mike Bruised Head of the Kainai Nation, part of the Blackfoot Confederation. Following traditional protocol, the mountain was first captured in a special ceremony by local Veterans Sergeant (retired) Preston Crowchief and supported by Warrant Officer (retired) Glenn Miller. Crowchief shared 4 stories relating to his service. The naming ceremony was conducted next announcing the Blackfoot name Maisstooinastáko (Crowchief Mountain) to all in attendance. This name was selected to honour First World War Kainai Veteran Joe Crowchief, who singlehanded captured a trench in his unit’s area of operations during the battle. The name covers the entire Vimy Ridge Mountain including Vimy Peak. Glenn Miller presented a Canadian flag that flew from Vimy Ridge in France to Preston Crowchief to mark the conclusion of the ceremony. The Crowchief family in the weeks following, had special jackets made to honour the event. The jacket features the Blackfoot name in blue and a large circular embroidered patch depicting the mountain on the back.

The Legacy of Vimy Ridge is well established across Canada.

 It will continue as major milestones occur featuring old and new tributes ensuring the Legacy is maintained and proudly passed on to future generations. 

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