“In those few moments I witnessed the birth of a nation.”
–Brigadier General & later Member of Parliament for Kingston, Arthur E. Ross speaking of Vimy Ridge
The Battle of Vimy Ridge was a defining moment for Canadian national identity, and it is forever engrained in the annals of our history.
At 5:30 am on April 9, 1917, with over 100,000 dead British and French soldiers literally at their feet, 15,000 brave Canadian soldiers stormed the heavily fortified 7 kilometer long ridge at Vimy. This was the first time that all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force assembled together as a single military unit. Through extraordinarily intricate planning, the Canadian soldiers were able to take the ridge with continuing British artillery support. By April 12, when the ridge was captured, a total of 3598 Canadians had been killed, and another 7000 wounded. The courage of the Canadians who fought at Vimy Ridge, and all of those who served during the First World War, will never be forgotten.
After the war, in 1922, the French government ceded to Canada in perpetuity Vimy Ridge, and the land surrounding it. The Canadian National Vimy Memorial, unveiled in 1936, is Canada’s most recognizable overseas monument. Designed by a prominent Canadian sculptor, Walter Allward, the Vimy Memorial consists of twin pylons, representing Canada and France, and 20 other allegorical figures, including a weeping figure of Canada Bereft (Mother Canada). The Vimy Memorial commemorates more than just those soldiers who fought at Vimy. In fact, the Memorial also stands as a poignant reminder of the 11,285 Canadian soldiers killed in France over the duration of World War One who have no known graves.
On the 100th anniversary of the battle, we recognize that this was a turning point not just in Canadian history, but in the First World War itself. Since then, Canadians of all backgrounds have made the voyage to France in order to pay their respects to the brave men and women who gave their lives to protect and promote world peace. Continuing that tradition, several schools and a number of veterans from Kingston and the Islands will be making the trip to the Vimy Memorial, to commemorate both the sacrifices of our brave soldiers and a truly revolutionary moment in our Nationhood.