In Canada, today marks the end of the first world war – what was to be the war to end all wars. We, as well as members of the commonwealth, take the day to remember those who fought for our freedom and who lost their lives doing so. This tradition began in 1919 with King George V as it was originally called Armistice Day, but it has evolved over the years into what it is now. Other countries have also established their own versions, similar to that of Veterans Day down in the United States. November 11 was chosen as the hostilities of the first world war ended “on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour”. Across Canada you’ll see numerous ceremonies to commemorate the bravery and strength of those who served before us, and continue to serve us, to make Canada what it is today. We also do this by wearing a poppy, the flower discussed in the famous poem In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, on our left side close to our heart.
There are a number of pivotal events that define Canadian history, but I’d say one of the first that comes to mind is the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Part of the Battle of Arras in France, Allied troops had tried numerous time to take the ridge but to no avail. Canadians troops lead the charge, and with support by a creeping barrage were able to take the ridge on the first day of their attack. The Central powers retreated shortly after, this battle was the first time all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces worked together. Hence, it became a Canadian symbol. Now if you ask anyone else about Vimy Ridge, they’ll probably look at you funny. Ask a Canadian, and we’ll tell you as much as we can about it. In France, the area of the ridge was given to Canada in 1920 by the Imperial War Graves Commission, and construction to establish a war memorial for Canadians who lost their lives in France began in 1924. Fear for its condition erupted during World War II, however the Germans preserved it as well as the trenches as Hitler ordered the Waffen-SS troops to guard it from both the Allied and German forces. It became an official historic site in 1996, and in 2001 the Canadian Government announced the Canadian Battlefield Memorials Restoration Project to restore war memorials in both France and Belgium. The restored memorial was rededicated by Queen Elizabeth II on April 9, 2007 in a ceremony to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. If you are every close to Arras, or even have a day or two to take a detour while in France, this memorial is a must-visit as a Canadian. To feel the sheer power and overwhelming emotion that is evoked with this memorial, as well as the reality of walking through the same trenches our soldiers battled through is something every Canadian should experience.
Our veterans and those who gave their lives for what we have today should be remembered at all times, but especially on this day. Thank you to the soldiers – current, elderly, past, and unknown – for making Canada what it is today. Lest we forget.