Posted by: Jennifer | April 9, 2007

remembering vimy ridge

Every country has a moment that defines it. For Canada, that moment was actually spread out over several days. The Battle of Vimy Ridge took the lives of over 3,500 Canadian soldiers, and also proved to be a key victory in the First World War. If the Canadians had not taken the Ridge, the war could have ended a lot differently than it did. Today, those sacrifices were honoured.

The Vimy Ridge Memorial
Prime Minister Stephen Harper joined thousands of Canadians on the grounds of Vimy Ridge on Monday morning to witness the rededication of its towering memorial and to mark the 90th anniversary of one of Canada’s most famous wartime battles.

Under a bright and sunny sky, Harper took in the ceremony seated beside Queen Elizabeth II, with French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin at her other side.

“We Canadians here today are a long way from home, but there may be no place on Earth that makes us feel more Canadian, because we sense all around us, the presence of our ancestors,” Harper said during his address to the crowd of thousands. Canadian veterans and schoolchildren were among the audience as well as MPs and Gen. Rick Hillier, Canada’s top soldier.

“Every nation has a creation story to tell. The First World War and the Battle of Vimy Ridge are central to the story of our country,” Harper said. “The names of all the great battles are well known to Canadians and Newfoundlanders, but we know the name of Vimy best of all, because it was here for the first time that our entire army fought for the first time together on the battlefield and the result was a spectacular victory.”

[…]The prime minister vowed that Canadians will continue to pass on the veterans’ stories.

“The veterans of Vimy passed their stories to their children, who passed it to theirs, who passed it to us, who are passing it to our children, thousands of whom are with us today,” Harper said.

The French prime minister thanked Canada for its sacrifices on the battlefield then, and now, during his speech.

“I want to, on behalf of the French Republic, pay solemn tribute to all Canadians that fell on French soil. I also have in my thoughts, the six soldiers that fell in the line of duty yesterday in Afghanistan,” said de Villepin.

[…]Queen Elizabeth then formally rededicated the memorial, which was first dedicated by King Edward VIII in 1936. Time had taken its toll on the stunning monument and, in 2001, the Canadian government announced it would be part of a $30-million program to restore Canada’s 13 First World War memorials in Europe. The painstaking restoration of the Vimy monument involved virtually taking it apart and putting it back together again. Made of gleaming white Seget limestone, two huge pylons rise up from the base of the monument which has the names of 11, 285 Canadian soldiers inscribed on it who were listed as missing and presumed dead in France.

During her speech, the Queen spoke of the historical significance of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and how it changed the course of the First World War and of Canada’s own history.

“The Canadian Corps transformed Vimy Ridge from a symbol of despair into a source of inspiration,” said the Queen, who alternated between French and English in her speech.

“Their victory did not only give others courage, it allowed Canada, who deserved it so much, to take its rightful place on the international scene as a proud, sovereign nation, strong and free.

“Canada’s commemorative monument here in Vimy bears witness to Canada’s great strength and its dedication to freedom. It also bears witness to the profound solidarity that binds Canada and France. Finally, it demonstrates the valour, the courage, and the sacrifice of the brave Canadians that inspired a young country to become a magnificent nation,” she said. “To those who have so recently lost their lives in Afghanistan, to Canada and to all who would serve the cause of freedom, I rededicate this magnificently restored memorial.”

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