#100DaysofVimy – April 9th, 2017

“Without the dead we were helpless… I have tried to show this in this monument to Canada’s fallen, what we owed them and we will forever owe them.” (Walter Allward, 1921)
The Ghosts of Vimy Ridge by Captain William Longstaff, Canadian War Museum, Object Number 19800724-001.

Vimy 100

2016 Beaverbrook Vimy Prize recipient Zoe McDaniel with the Canada Bereft statue, looking out over the Douai Plains.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation/Pascal Brunet, 2016.

On this monumental day in Canada’s history, we commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. On this occasion, and indeed throughout the many years to follow, Canadians will stand in awe at the base of Walter Allward’s Vimy Memorial. The power of such a monument and its dedication to sacrifice becomes ever more so upon reading Allward’s vision for the Vimy Memorial:

At the base of the strong impregnable wall of defence are the defenders – one group showing the breaking of the sword, the other, the sympathy of the Canadians for the helpless… On the wall stands an heroic figure of Canada, brooding over the graves of her valiant dead. Below is suggested a grave with a helmet and laurels. Behind her stands two pylons – symbolizing the two forces, Canadian and French. Between and at the base of these is the Spirit of Sacrifice, who, giving his all, throws the torch to his comrade. Looking up they see the figures of peace, justice, truth, knowledge, for which they fought, chanting the hymn of peace.”

And of his inspiration for the monument:

I dreamed I was in a great battlefield. I saw our men going in by the thousands and being mowed down by the sickles of death…Suffering beyond endurance at the sight, I turned my eyes and found myself looking down on an avenue of poplars. Suddenly through the avenue I saw thousands marching to the aid of our armies. They were the dead. They rose in masses, filed silently by and entered the fight to aid the living… Without the dead we were helpless… I have tried to show this in this monument to Canada’s fallen, what we owed them and we will forever owe them.” (Walter Alward, 1921)

Mana Moshkforoush, 2016 Vimy Pilgrimage Award recipient, studies the figure of the Spirit of Sacrifice at the Vimy Memorial.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation/Pascal Brunet, 2016.

#100DaysofVimy – April 2nd, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance.

The Vimy Pilgrimage – Part III

Crowds milling about the battlefield and Vimy Memorial in anticipation of its unveiling.
Credit: Canadian Govt. Motion Pict. Bureau/National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque/National Archives of_Canada/PA-148873.

Finally, on 26 July 1936, the Vimy Memorial was ready for its unveiling. The Vimy Pilgrims arrived on the site early in the day, taking time to explore the battlefield that Will R. Bird had told them of in 1931, especially the tunnels and trenches fortuitously preserved by Major Unwin Simson of the Canadian Engineers. As the official ceremonies began, the Pilgrims fell in to ranks as though on parade. Crowded around the Vimy Memorial were more than 100,000 people. While King Edward VIII mingled through the crowds of veterans, British and French Air Force Squadrons flew low over the monument, dipping their wings in salute.

The flypast of British and French Air Force Squadrons prior to the unveiling of the Vimy Memorial.
Credit: Canadian Govt. Motion Pict. Bureau/National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque/National Archives of_Canada/PA-148872.

With the King taking his spot atop the monument, numerous dignitaries delivered speeches, with Ian Mackenzie, the Canadian Minister of National Defence, being met with resounding cries of “Vive La France! Long Live the President! God Save the King!” The King then delivered a brief speech in both English and French, before pulling the drawstring on the Union Jack that cloaked the Canada Bereft figure, officially unveiling the Vimy Memorial. The Last Post was sounded, followed by two minutes silence, ended by the sounding of Reveille. In the valley leading to the Douai Plain, artillery cracked a 21-gun salute that reverberated across the old battlefield. Following along back home, the entire ceremony was broadcast live to Canada by the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission.

H.M. King Edward VIII unveiling the Canada Bereft figure at the Vimy Memorial.
Credit: Canadian Govt. Motion Pict. Bureau/National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque/National Archives of_Canada/PA-148880.

Randall Christie, one of the 6,200 Canadian Vimy Pilgrims, remarked: “in spite of the large number there was a strange quietness noticeably amongst the Pilgrims… Minds were flashing back a few years and the memories of those with whom we served and who gave their lives on this very ground came back to us” (Christie & Roncetti, For Our Old Comrades, p. 74).

Follow this link to hear King Edward VIII’s speech: http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/1936-vimy-ridge-memorial-unveiled

Additionally, amateur film and photographs of the entire Vimy Pilgrimage can be viewed in this rare collection: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XG8YF74ABIQ

#100DaysofVimy – March 26th, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance.

The Vimy Pilgrimage – Part II

Upon arriving in Europe, the Vimy Pilgrims boarded trains and proceeded to their respective cities, from which dozens of tour busses would shuttle pilgrims to and fro across Belgium and France. Each Pilgrim was able to request  a specific battlefield tour they wished to complete. This would ease the strain on the dozens of small towns that simply could not host 6,200 visitors at a single moment. In addition to this, Pilgrims could request special cemetery visits, enabling them to visit specific graves of loved ones. In total, 1,400 Pilgrims requested a special cemetery visit, totaling over 300 sites. In a remarkable indication of reverence, each of these 1,400 requests were fulfilled by the travel agencies.

The Vimy Pilgrimage resulted in great amounts of souvenirs made by the French for the occasion, including commemorative ashtrays and medallions.
Courtesy: The Canadian Centre for the Great War, 2017.


The Pilgrims were no doubt the toast of Europe at the time. Despite their small size, villages and hamlets liberated by the Canadians clamoured to host a ceremony and parade for the returning Pilgrims. In London, the Pilgrims paraded to Westminster Hall for a massive ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A garden party at Buckingham Palace was attended by King Edward VIII, who mingled and chatted with the Pilgrims.

After the official Pilgrimage ended, the 5,000 Pilgrims who accepted the French Invitation were treated to extravagant receptions in larger cities such as Rouen and Blois, where boisterous banquets often crescendoed with chorus rounds of “Tipperary” to the delight of the French crowds. At Paris, the Pilgrims paraded through cheering throngs to receptions at the Hotel de Ville and Hôtel des Invalides.

Menus, programs and invitations from assorted Vimy Pilgrimage receptions. The banquet in Rouen was attended by 8,000 people alone.
Courtesy: The Canadian Centre for the Great War, 2017.

#100DaysofVimy – March 19th, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance.

The Vimy Pilgrimage – Part I

The application form for the Vimy Pilgrimage. Pilgrims were required to be the immediate family of someone who had served.
Courtesy: The Canadian Centre for the Great War, 2017.

With the overwhelming success of the Canadian Corps Reunion in 1934, the preparations for a Vimy Pilgrimage were begun in earnest. By 1936, Walter Seymour Allward’s masterpiece atop Vimy Ridge was finally complete. Overseen by the Royal Canadian Legion, the Vimy Pilgrimage was an officially organized travel group, open to veterans and their immediate family, that would take them back to the battlefields of Europe on a three-and-a-half week whirlwind event.

The pilgrimage became a major social affair in Canada and many clamoured to be a part of the occasion. In charge of organizing the travel, the Thomas Cook & Son agency offered additional tour packages for Pilgrims who wished to see more of Europe once the official Pilgrimage was over. In addition to this, the French government stepped forward and offered an additional five days of touring France, completely free to those wishing to participate. Pilgrims were issued special Vimy Pilgrimage Canadian passports, colour-coded berets and buttons, a Vimy Pilgrimage medal,  a “Pilgrim’s haversack” and vast amounts of tickets and certificates pertaining to their meals, boat, train, and bus passage.

Assorted ephemera from the Vimy Pilgrimage, including boarding passes for the sea voyage and identification buttons. The letter envelope was officially “posted” from the crest of Vimy Ridge, at a temporary post office set up specifically for the occasion of the unveiling.
Courtesy: The Canadian Centre for the Great War, 2017.

In July 1936, over 6,200 Pilgrims departed the Montreal Harbour on Allan Line and Canadian Pacific steamships to the sounds of brass bands and cheering crowds, reminiscent of the war-time send-offs.

The packed decks of the Canadian Pacific Steamship, “Montrose”, littered with tickertape confeti, departing the port of Montreal for the Vimy Pilgrimage in June 1936. In the background is the Jacques Cartier Bridge.
Credit: Clifford M. Johnston / Library and Archives Canada / PA-056950.

#100DaysofVimy – March 12th, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance. Today:

The Canadian Corps Reunion of 1934

All veterans at the 1934 Canadian Corps Reunion received an arm band and beret based on their unit of service; here is an armband for a member of the Canadian Engineers.
Courtesy: Canadian Centre for the Great War.

The death of Sir Arthur Currie in 1933 served as the final spark that re-ignited the esprit de corps amongst Canada’s veterans. In response to the outpouring of passion and pride, the Canadian Corps Reunion was planned for August 4th – 6th, 1934. In homage to Currie, its motto was a phrase of his “They served till death, why not we?”

Coinciding with the Centenary of the City of Toronto, the reunion was arranged on the Canadian National Exhibition Grounds. In the midst of the Depression, the vets arrived in droves using all manners of transportation; rail, hitch-hiking, overloaded cars, some even walked. In an effort to replicate the life experienced “behind the lines” during rest periods overseas, an entire French village was built on the grounds; complete with town squares, French cafes serving alcohol (“estaminets” to the vets) and even farmyards with manure piles.

Although this program is from the 1938 Canadian Corps Reunion, the scheduled events are near identical to those held in 1934.
Courtesy: Canadian Centre for the Great War.

The life of the reunion centered around these estaminets, with old war songs, pianos, laughter and the clinking of bottles resounding far into the early morning. The vets marched down streets in the French village whose names they recognized: “Plug Street, Whiz Bang Avenue, Ypres Road” (Christie, Roncetti, For Our Old Comrades, 34).

For a week, the men of the Canadian Corps were given free rein of Toronto, whether marching in parades by their thousands, designating themselves impromptu traffic directors, or breaking out a game of Crown & Anchor on the sidewalks. It is estimated that 120,000 veterans attended the Canadian Corps Reunion, with as many as 300,000 people attending the Grand Finale Parade to Riverdale Park. With the Vimy Memorial nearing completion, the reunion closed with the rallying cry “On to Vimy!” (Christie, Roncetti, For Our Old Comrades, 36).

An estimated 300,000 people attended the 1934 Canadian Corps Reunion’s Grand Finale Parade in Toronto’s Riverdale Park, where a cardboard replica of the Vimy Memorial towered above the crowds.
Courtesy: Willa Rivett Family, Private Collection, 2017.

#100DaysofVimy – March 5th, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance.

Sir Arthur Currie’s Death – A Revival of Canadian Corps Pride

The publishing of battlefield tour articles by veteran Will R. Bird, M.M. in Maclean’s Magazine revived a wartime nostalgia amongst veterans. Upon his return to Canada in 1932, Bird spent over a year travelling across the nation sharing his stories and photographs with fellow veterans at their local legions and halls. During this time, the desire for unity and comradeship rose to prominence amongst veterans disgruntled with their lack of representation in the public sphere.

In 1933, one of their champions would fall, when former Canadian Corps Commander, Sir Arthur Currie, died at the age of 57. A prominent figure in post-war Canada, he had served as the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University, as well as the President of the Last Post Fund. The death of “Guts and Gaiters”, as the troops had nicknamed Currie, sent another ripple through the growing veterans movement, echoing and reviving the desire for the passion and pride many recalled as members of the Canadian Corps during the war.

King George V conferring the honour of Knighthood on General Arthur William Currie, Commander of the Canadian Corps. At Albert, France – 12 July 1917.
Credit: © IWM (Q 5656)

#100DaysofVimy – February 26, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance. Part IV – Building The Vimy Memorial

With the arrival of the first shipments of Seget limestone in France, sculpting could finally begin for the Vimy Memorial in 1927. The blocks were first cut to size in work shops on the ground before being hoisted into position; the figures of the memorial were only sculpted once set in place atop the memorial. This required the construction of extensive studios, encircling the memorial’s two pylons and suspended nearly 200 feet in the air. A pantograph was used by the sculptors to reproduce Allward’s plaster models to scale.


Studios were suspended hundreds of feet in the air for the sculpting process. Credit: Central pylons enclosed, view from left. National Gallery of Canada.



Partially completed figures and remaining blocks indicate the amount of sculpting that had to be completed within the suspended studios. Credit: National Gallery of Canada. Gift of Peter Allward, 1986.


Sculptors used a pantograph, (partially visible at top of photo), to reproduce the figures. Allward’s plaster model can be seen on the right. Credit: Duplication of Female Mourner. National Gallery of Canada. Gift of Peter Allward, 1986.


#100DaysofVimy – February 19, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance.

Part III – Building The Vimy Memorial

Due to the difficulty of quarrying such large slabs of stone, as well as its extensive shipping route, the first shipment of Allward’s selected Seget limestone did not arrive in France until 1927. In an effort to keep his workers busy, many of whom were French and British veterans, Canadian military engineer Major Unwin Simson decided to preserve a section of trench lines that had been slowly deteriorating since 1918. Workers reinforced the German and Canadian lines near the Grange crater group by filling sandbags with concrete and re-lining the dugout walls. A portion of the Grange Subway was also excavated, a concrete entrance poured, and electrical lighting installed. The opportunity to experience these preserved trenches and tunnel systems at the Vimy Memorial today can be largely attributed to Major Simson’s efforts.

2015 Vimy Pilgrimage Award recipients descending into the tunnels of Maison Blanche, near Vimy Ridge, courtesy of the Durand Group.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation / Marc Cayez.


2015 Vimy Pilgrimage Award recipients in the tunnels of Maison Blanche, courtesy of the Durand Group.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation / Marc Cayez.

#100DaysofVimy – February 12, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance.

Part II – Building The Vimy Memorial

The competition process for Canada’s First World War memorials was overseen by the Canadian Battlefields Memorials Commission. In total, 160 drawings were submitted, of which 17 were chosen for further consideration. Despite his design being chosen in 1921, at the time, Walter Allward had not yet even decided which stone he wished to use for the memorial. Upon receiving the Commission’s approval, Allward embarked on a two year journey to find the preferred stone. In an old Roman quarry of Yugoslavia, Allward found the Seget limestone he desired. Six thousand tons of it would travel by water to Venice, where it was then shipped by rail to the site in France. The Canada Bereft figure alone was cut from a single block weighing twenty-eight tons.


Plaster casts of the 17 memorial designs, with the Vimy Memorial in the far background. On the far right is “The Brooding Soldier” designed by F.C. Clemesha, a Canadian veteran of the 46th (South Saskatchewan) Battalion, the only other submission to actually be constructed. As runner-up to Allward’s design, “The Brooding Soldier” was chosen for the Canadian memorial to the Second Battle of Ypres. Despite its smaller size when compared to Vimy, the emotional impact of “The Brooding Soldier” caused the Commission to cancel plans to erect duplicates, so as not to detract from its profound effect.
Credit: CBMC Competition. Veterans Affairs Canada.


Having finally arrived on site, the blocks of Seget limestone were arranged in order of installation. Here the work yard can be seen with the base of the Vimy Memorial in the background.
Credit: W. and M. le Chat. National Gallery of Canada.

#100DaysofVimy – February 5, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance. This week begins a new series on the construction of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.

Part I – Building the Vimy Memorial

When Will R. Bird visited Vimy Ridge for Maclean’s Magazine in 1932, Walter Allward’s work on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial was well underway, having begun in 1925. But progress on the memorial had been slow and tedious, as Allward and his crew faced the same perils Bird had stumbled across during his tour of the trenches.

Littered with unexploded shells and grenades, rusted weapons and wire, 100,000 yards of earth had to be removed by hand to prepare for the monument’s base. Other relics of the war, the dugouts and tunnels, (when discovered), had to be emptied of the explosive munitions that were often stored within, and filled with wet chalk or concrete. Finding these underground caverns hidden beneath the monument’s base was crucial, for in total, the memorial would weigh more than 50,000 tons.

More to come next week!

Workers construct the Vimy Memorial's base foundation. Credit: Canada - Dept. of Veterans Affairs / Library and Archives Canada / e002852545
Workers construct the Vimy Memorial’s base foundation. Credit: Canada – Dept. of Veterans Affairs / Library and Archives Canada / e002852545