One hundred years ago, Canada was fighting the battle at Vimy Ridge, which has been referred to as the moment in which Canada really became a country.
It’s difficult to really contest or affirm grand statements like this, but it’s true enough that it deserves the centennial celebrations. The Battle of Vimy Ridge in particular was the first battle in which the Canadian Expeditionary Force fought collectively together, and they took a strip of land that global powers Britain and the France tried and failed to capture.
The battle and our performance in that First World War helped us gain the respect needed to get a seat away from Britain at the Versailles negotiations – it may have contributed to Canada further becoming of being a country the Statute of Westminster later in 1931.
The First World War was fought by a number of people from the Lac La Biche region. It’s sometimes difficult to determine if people fought in Vimy Ridge, because records at the time forbade them from revealing their location.
But we know that among those includes the Spencer family, which includes George and Charlie who served in the military.
Charlie ended up dying of influenza in 1918, while George was wounded when he took shrapnel to the legs. The Lac La Biche Museum in McArthur Place has records of their existence and their letters for posterity.
Though I have been interested in 20th century history since I was a little boy, I have not yet been to France never mind Vimy Ridge. But our other reporter, Kevan Dowd, went on a trip to Belgium, France and the Netherlands to visit important Canadian war sites, which included Vimy Ridge.
He went as part of a high school trip and he told me that the trip made a big impression on him. One thing that he told me particularly struck him was the names on the monument at Vimy Ridge he recognized from back home. He also saw the monument silhouetted by sunlight at the top of the ridge – a sight he effectively said was too good for a picture, and that he kept only to himself.
Roughly 50 to 60 Northern Lights Public School students are doing a similar thing now. The kids are spending two weeks in France and are scheduled to visit Vimy Ridge on Sunday to coincide with the start of the battle.
They went on this trip after voluntarily taking part in raising money since 2014. That tells me these kids have at least enough of a genuine historical interest to voluntarily send themselves on a trip like this, which tells me that they will both get something out of it and that the memory of the troops who fought in Vimy Ridge and other places won’t be forgotten.
War is extremely inglorious. From every account I’ve heard of war, it is the closest thing to hell on Earth. But don’t confuse war with the soldiers. Their sacrifices are every bit as meaningful as they’re made out to be, and the near 3,600 people who died in Vimy Ridge and the thousands of others that have died in other conflicts command real respect.
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