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STATEMENT - Battle of Vimy Ridge - One Hundredth Anniversary


Hon. Serge Joyal: Honourable senators, on Sunday, April 9, 2017, Canada, France and the United Kingdom will commemorate the Battle of Vimy Ridge, north of the city of Arras, 100 years after the four divisions of Canadian troops won a victory there over the German armed forces, who had occupied the ridge since October 1914.

Vimy was a strategic stronghold used by the Germans to control the entire industrial region of the north of France, rich in coal mines that were essential to supporting the German war effort.

Twice before, in the years preceding the Canadian attack of April 9, British and French forces had tried to take the German fortress at Vimy with no success but at great human expense, leaving behind 100,000 casualties.

What was unprecedented at Vimy that spring of 1917 was that, for the first time, the four divisions forming the Canadian contingent were united in a coordinated attack under the command of British General Julian Byng, assisted by Canadian Brigadier-General Arthur Currie.

The battle of Vimy Ridge was ferocious and tragic. On the very first day, Canada lost 4,344 men. It was the worst day of the entire war for Canada. At the end of the battle, three days later, 10,600 Canadians had been killed, most of them young men in their twenties.

Over the years, this battle has become symbolic for Canadians. In 1925, the government chose Vimy, France, as the site on which to build a massive cenotaph, the largest built by any of the Allies, to remember the 60,000 Canadians who died in the war. The names of the 11,285 Canadian soldiers whose bodies were never found and could not be buried are inscribed on the monument. Vimy is a symbol of Canada's war effort, which was considerable. Canada mobilized one of the largest forces of any Allies, with nearly 620,000 soldiers serving directly under the Canadian flag.

In order to better understand the meaning of Canada's participation in the Great War, we took the initiative three years ago, in November 2014, to organize a two-day symposium in the Senate under the patronage of Speaker Nöel Kinsella. A second session followed in the Assemblée nationale in Paris in May 2015. Advised by the retired professor of history Serge Bernier, the two-part symposium involved 20 noted historians: 10 Canadian and 10 French.

The basic purpose of the symposium was to better understand the transformative impact of the war on Canada as well as on France. The historians analyzed how the war affected the economy, the military and public finances; how the war impacted society and culture, censorship and propaganda, and even the evolution of the Canadian Parliament. Other contributions explored how the war altered the role of women; the status of ethnic minorities, including the Aboriginal peoples; and the significance and meaning of religion and art.

All these essays were then published in a richly illustrated volume of 650 pages. Senators, get a copy of it. It will be launched next Sunday at Vimy and be available at the new interpretation centre.