It’s not always easy to pinpoint the moment in which a nation defines itself. In fact, for most countries this moment doesn’t even exist. For Canada, however – a country that is usually depicted as quiet and reserved on the global stage – this moment is largely agreed on as the Battle of Vimy Ridge. I’m no historian but if my year 10 history trip to France and Belgium taught me anything, it was that prior to WWI, little was known about the young dominion of Canada; however, through the turmoil and bloodshed a strong and respected nation emerged. In my final months before moving to Canada, I was fortunate enough to tread the same soil from which Canada’s nationalism was built and could pay my respects to those brave men who made it happen so.
The land on which the memorial is grounded is officially Canadian territory which prompted some friendly teasing from my class mates, such as ‘Ohh Lindsey look, I’m in Canada! It doesn’t look so different…’. Once off the coach however, the teasing and chatter subsided. For 100 rowdy 15 year olds far away from home to act so solemn and respectful, it’s a miracle – but the 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge wasn’t won by miracles.
Amid the rough terrain, under the towering white pillars where the names of the fallen are etched in their thousands, it’s difficult not to feel at least in some regards, humbled. The light summer rain and a windless flag that hung limp atop its perch seemed to complement the setting.
As we walked towards the monument, we became aware that large portions of the surrounding land were sectioned off, only accessible to the obliviously grazing sheep. We were informed that this was because it was still unsafe to walk freely on the grass since beneath hid unexploded mines. 90 years later and the horrors still linger. Preserved trenches and a museum of artifacts also keeps the legend of Vimy grounded in reality. Reality brings awareness and awareness brings remembrance.
In that moment on a rainy morning in France, I looked deeper into the growing pains of Canada’s history than many Canadians have themselves. What I witnessed was a struggle for recognition and a country born from strength and bravery. Don’t wait to be prompted every November to pay respects, remember today.