Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France.
Credits: File photo
Some historians will tell you that Canada really defined itself as a nation 95 years ago, at Vimy Ridge in France.
Thousands of young people from across the country are overseas this weekend, getting ready for a hallowed ceremony at the Vimy Ridge memorial to honour the Canadians who mounted a daring battle there during the Great War.
On Easter Monday, April 9, 1917, at 5:30 in the morning, all four divisions of the Canadian Corps came together for the first time and stormed the seven-kilometre-wide ridge that had been long held by the Germans, dug in with machine guns. They suffered more than 10,600 casualties --3,598 of whom died -- but by April 12 they had captured it, achieving what others could not.
"The Canadians would be assaulting over an open graveyard, since previous French attacks had failed, with over 100,000 casualties," writes the Canadian War Museum on a special Vimy Ridge memorial site. "The key to victory would be a devastating artillery barrage that would not only isolate enemy trenches, but provide a moving wall of high explosives and shrapnel to force the Germans to stay in their deep dugouts and away from their machine guns."
The monument to the war dead stands at the highest point of Vimy Ridge, on Hill 145. It was the most important feature at the ridge, and was captured in a frontal bayonet charge by Canadians against machine-gun positions.
Ceremonies are also being held across Canada, including an overnight cadet vigil Sunday at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, and a special one in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island on Saturday.
"They invented something that had never been done before, called the rolling barrage -- allied guns were pounding down on Vimy Ridge, and every few minutes the Canadians would move forward," said Mike Duffy, senator for Cavendish, P.E.I. "Never again after that battle did Canadians fight under another command -- British Command, French Command, whatever, we always fought as Canadians as a unit ever since then. That's what they really mean by at that battle Canada became a country."