There are times when I lament the lack of interest in Canada’s history, especially in schools. It seems that history is merely an assignment; something to be completed to satisfy an academic requirement. Then there are times like this past weekend when two seminal events in the history of this country were marked in France.
On Saturday, the Hill 70 memorial was dedicated. It’s about ten minutes by car from the Vimy Ridge Memorial in northern France. It pays tribute to the sacrifice of Canadian troops who took the strategic objective from the Germans in August of 1917.
Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge; the first time the Canadian Corp fought as a unit. Almost 3,600 Canadians lost their lives in that four day battle. Many of them are buried in the area.
“It makes such a difference to be here and to see what Canadians went through to win this battle,” explained Graham Fleming, a teacher at Vimy Academy in Edmonton. “We did an internet broadcast back to our students in Edmonton last Thursday. We were able to share what we had seen. We had a number of schools across Canada who joined us. And there are thousands of Canadian students in France at this time, to see remains of the battle and, in a way, to listen to the echoes of the voices of those who fought here.”
“Our whole purpose behind this trip is to not only connect it to the youth back home, but also it is to try and keep this historic event in the hearts and minds of Canadians. Coverage in the media is a super important tool. Being here and seeing the crosses, hearing the stories, being reminded of the number of casualties… it’s gut-wrenching and incomprehensible. I feel passionately that we owe it to those boys to honour them and not let their contribution be forgotten.”
In this year of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, the ceremonies of Vimy and of Hill 70 remind us all of the important lessons learned. The people of France were liberated from an oppressor. “Without peace there can be no freedom,” Governor General David Johnston, said at Vimy. “And without freedom, there is only slavery.”
And at home, the lessons of preparation, sacrifice, and perseverance were learned and made possible the achievements in France. Those lessons remain as timely today as they were a century ago. That is the value of history.