Sunday marked the centennial of an important event in Canadian history. It was the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge — a bloody conflict that was not only a notable episode in the First World War, but a monumental stepping stone for Canada.
At a ceremony in August 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper noted, in recognizing the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, “Canada as a truly independent country was forged in the fires of the First World War.”
Canadians participated in some of the war’s key battles — Hill 70 and Passchendaele among them — but the Battle of Vimy Ridge is regarded as a major turning point in which Canada established itself on the world stage.
The Vimy Foundation, which works to new generations of Canadians understand the importance of Vimy Ridge to the nation’s identity, says on its website (http://www.vimyfoundation.ca): “The message of Vimy Ridge is one of bravery and sacrifice. The battle, which took place on April 9, 1917, is commonly highlighted as a turning point in Canadian history, where the four Canadian divisions fought together as a unified fighting force for the first time. While 3,598 Canadian soldiers were killed during the battle, the impressive victory over German forces is often cited as the beginning of Canada’s evolution from dominion to independent nation.”
The battle’s objective was a German-held high ground that had already cost the lives of about 150,000 French and British soldiers. Some allied commanders were convinced that regaining the ridge was an impossible task. But by the time the battle concluded on April 12, Canadian troops controlled the ridge. The victory came at a steep price, though, with some 3,600 Canadian soldiers killed and about 7,000 wounded.
Thorough preparation is viewed as the key to success at Vimy, and the battle established the reputation of the Canadian Corps, which went on to other significant victories that year at Hill 70 and Passchendaele.
Besides being an important military triumph, the Battle of Vimy Ridge was a major event in the history of the relatively young nation of Canada in helping to forge a national identity and build national unity.
Tim Cook, in an article on the Canadian War Museum website, wrote: “Many historians and writers consider the Canadian victory at Vimy a defining moment for Canada, when the country emerged from under the shadow of Britain and felt capable of greatness.”
The Vimy Foundation, on its web page titled “Significance of Vimy Ridge,” includes a quote from French historian and philosopher, Ernest Renan, who noted: “Nations are made by doing great things together.”
At Vimy Ridge, Canadian soldiers did great things together and it helped elevate Canada in the eyes of the world. A young nation grew up during that battle and took its place among the world’s major countries.
It’s an important achievement in Canadian history that is well worth remembering in this year that our nation celebrates its 150th birthday.