It was 100 years ago on April 9th that Canada won Vimy Ridge in France at enormous cost and made their mark on history.
Vimy Ridge was seven kilometers of strategic high ground in France. Allies had previously lost 150,000 soldiers trying to capture the commanding view without success.
Our allies fought along side us in this key battle, but it was Canada’s key contributions and subsequent victory that changed the course of history.
The preparation plans were extensive and the attack had been rehearsed many times beforehand. Canada knew it would be a big fight and they came prepared.
At dawn on April 9th, 1917, close to 100,000 Canadians rose from their trenches, tunnels and dugouts to take on the enemy in a battle many thought could not be won. We fought as one, but there were English, French, recent immigrants and First Nations that joined together to fight as Canadians.
The battle, fought uphill, was a surprising quick attack with much of the fighting over by noon.
At the end of that morning, 10,000 Canadian lay dead or wounded. It would be the bloodiest day in Canadian military history, but it would cement Canada as a fighting force to be reckoned with. Over the months that followed, Canadian troops became more independent instead of fighting under British command.
The battle of Vimy Ridge is credited with being the first time Canada was seen as its own fighting force and not simply a British colony. Some have said that on April 9th, 1917, a nation was born in the eyes of the world.
As Brigadier General Alexander Ross said, “I thought then…that in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.”
This victory is thought by some to be the key reason Canada got its own seat at the Treaty of Versailles.
In 1922, France gave Vimy Ridge and the surrounding land to Canada in perpetuity and a magnificent monument was built to honour all Canadians who died in France. The stark, gleaming white marble towers are a powerful and imposing testament to the historic battle.
Every year, young Canadians work at the visitors centre and thousands of Canadians make the pilgrimage to this historic place in Canadian history. If you want to visit Vimy Ridge or learn more about the battle, please visit www.veterans.gc.ca.