How the Vimy Ridge memorial became a symbol of peace
Published Thursday, April 6, 2017 10:00PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, April 6, 2017 10:25PM EDT
On the same soil where Canadian soldiers fought and won a pivotal battle of the First World War, two ghostly white spires stand tall to salute the troops who never made it home.
The Canadian National Vimy Memorial is a tribute to the 66,000 Canadians who died in the First World War. Surrounded by 117 hectares of land gifted to Canada from France, the memorial doesn’t depict soldiers, guns or symbols of warfare. Instead, 20 stone sculptures represent ideas that the troops fought to protect, such as faith, justice, peace and hope.
The striking monument is also an important commemoration of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, four days of fierce fighting in rainy conditions that ended with Canadians capturing the strategic ridge from the Germans.
And while the memorial was erected to remember a defining moment in Canada’s history, the structure itself is steeped in its own fascinating story.
The memorial was the handiwork of Walter Allward, a sculptor from Toronto who first saw the design in a dream. It took 11 years for the memorial to be built.
“It’s incredible. The effort it took just to build it is incredible. Walter Allward is someone every Canadian school kid and every Canadian should know about – and very few do. Another unsung hero of our Canadian story,” Jeremy Diamond, a historian and executive director of the Vimy Foundation, told CTV National News Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme.
The monument was finally unveiled in 1936, and more than 6,000 Canadian veterans and their families were given special passports to make the trans-Atlantic voyage to see it.
When the Second World War erupted three years later, Nazis destroyed almost all memorials belonging to the Allies. But the Vimy memorial survived thanks to an order by Adolf Hitler, who was concerned about the 45,000 German soldiers buried nearby.
Hitler even paid the monument a visit himself in 1940 to disprove false news stories circulating at the time that the site had been destroyed by his forces.
While the monument survived the Second World War, it began showing signs of age as the decades carried on. It finally got a facelift just in time for the battle’s 90th anniversary, which included a special rededication from Queen Elizabeth II.
To mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge on Sunday, a ceremony will be held at the site, with guests including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Gov.-Gen. David Johnston, French President Francois Hollande, Princes Charles, William and Harry, and an estimated 12,000 students. It is expected to be the largest gathering at the memorial since it was unveiled.
CTV National News will be broadcasting live from France on the morning of Sunday, April 9 to mark the special event.
With a report from CTV National News Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme