Google Street View offers never-before-seen look at Vimy Ridge
Josh K. Elliott, CTVNews.ca
Published Saturday, April 8, 2017 8:18AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, April 8, 2017 2:16PM EDT
Canadians now have the opportunity to virtually walk the trenches, tunnels and battle-scarred hills of historic Vimy Ridge in France, thanks to a new Google Street View project that includes never-before-seen perspectives on the site.
The interactive tour allows users to explore the Canadian National Vimy Memorial depicted on every $20 bill, at the French site where thousands of Canadians died during a key victory of the First World War a century ago. The battle is often seen as a turning point in Canadian history, when all four divisions of the military came together for the first time in combat.
The project is being rolled out to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the battle, which began with a Canadian assault on Apr. 9, 1917.
Google Canada's Aaron Brindle, who mapped the site himself, calls the project a "lens into our shared history." Brindle, who serves as Google Canada's head of public affairs, travelled to France himself to map the site with a 360-degree camera. Most of the footage was captured on a misty day in February, with additional photos taken during earlier trips.
"Travelling to Vimy, you feel this immediate weight once you walk onto the site," said Brindle, a self-professed cartography and military history buff. "It really does feel like you're walking on this sacred ground."
Brindle says he's excited for Street View users to walk a mile in his shoes, so they can examine the many sights he saw in France.
He says he was particularly shocked by the landscape, which has been preserved by Veterans Affairs Canada for decades. "It's got these massive divots, and those are scars from the battle that took place 100 years ago on the same land," he said.
The battle scars on the land are clearly visible from the surrounding road and from the steps of the monument itself.
The Street View project includes many views of the monument itself, as well as the massive Spirit of Sacrifice and Mother Canada statues that stand on the platform. It also includes drone footage captured from approximately 20 metres in the air, which offers a closer look at the huge structure.
"Even if you physically went up to the memorial, you would never be able to see it from this perspective," Brindle said.
The Google Street View experience includes a a full tour of the trenches where Canadian soldiers once fought, and a trip down into the dank tunnels where officers drew up plans for the historic battle.
Brindle says he was struck by the atmosphere in the old tunnels, where the smell of moss and a hint of mold hangs in the air. "They're very, very damp," he said.
He added that he was surprised to see how close the Canadian trenches were to the German ones. "You can go from what were the Canadian lines in Street View, and you walk 15 metres to the German lines," he said. "You can stand and easily throw a baseball between these two trenches, and see how this landscape was permanently altered.
The virtual tour also takes users to the Canadian cemeteries and the Moroccan Division Memorial, which commemorates the dead from an earlier battle, in 1915.