Every year, April 9th marks the anniversary of the Battle of Arras and the capture of Vimy Ridge in France. This is an important anniversary for Canadians, as our soldiers played a significant role in this historic battle. Taking place in 1917, it’s commonly highlighted as a key turning point for our country’s history.
With the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge coming up in 2017—and the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe in 2015—it’s important for all Canadians to understand how our past shaped Canada’s future, as well as its identity. These five significant sites tell the story of Canada’s history and offer an opportunity for visitors to commemorate our country’s sacrifice.
1. Vimy Memorial
In recognition of the bravery of Canadians during the First World War, France granted Canada 107 hectares of land at Vimy to build a memorial. Made from white marble and inscribed with the names of 11,286 Canadian soldiers who were presumed dead in France, this memorial honours their sacrifice. It also pays tribute to April 9th, 1917—a defining day for Canada and for the First World War. More than 20,000 of our soldiers took place in a carefully planned, ultimately successful attack on German fortifications. The Vimy Memorial and the surrounding battlegrounds offer a quiet place of contemplation, a place that reminds us of events that helped shape our nation.
2. Beaumont Hamel
Beaumont Hamel is one of five bronze Caribou statues found on hilltops in Northern France and Belgium that mark a trail of bravery and sacrifice. These six memorials look over the fields on which thousands of Newfoundland men, members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, made the ultimate sacrifice in the First World War. A sixth statue stands at Bowring Park in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
The Caribou found at Beaumont Hamel in France commemorates the first day of the epic Battle of the Somme. This was the first major battle seen by the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, and the most costly. Within 30 minutes, almost the entire regiment was wiped out. Roll call that night turned up only 68 men—over 700 were dead, wounded or missing. The people of Newfoundland purchased the land here for the purpose of establishing the monument.
3. Menin Gate Memorial
The Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium is dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who lost their lives in the First World War, and whose graves are unknown. The Memorial is inscribed with the names of 55,000 soldiers; of these, 6,940 are Canadian. To this day, the dead are remembered nightly in a ceremony that takes place at 8:00 PM. All traffic through the Memorial’s gateway must stop, and two buglers sound “The Last Post” in honour of their memory.
4. Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery
The Groesbeek War Cemetery is a significant site for our country, as the majority of graves here belong to Canadian soldiers (many of whom died in the Battle of the Rhineland during the Second World War). The cemetery contains 2,610 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, and nine war graves for soldiers of other nationalities. Within is the Groesbeek Memorial, which commemorates by name more than 1,000 members of the Commonwealth forces who died towards the end of the war, and whose graves are not known.
5. Juno Beach Centre
On June 6, 1944, 14,000 Canadians took part in the Allied invasion of Normandy—more commonly known as D-Day—that would eventually lead to victory in Europe. More than 300 Canadian soldiers lost their lives on Juno Beach in a single day, with hundreds more wounded. The Juno Beach Centre opened on June 6th, 2003 to commemorate the effort made by all Canadians during the Second World War, whether civilian or military, at home and on the front. Owned and operated by Canadian non-profit charitable organization, The Juno Beach Centre Association, this museum and cultural centre was designated as a site of national historic significance to Canada by the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
It’s never too early to start planning your Canada’s History Tour! Join thousands of Canadian students, cadets and educators in marking the 70th Anniversary of Victory in Europe in May 2015. You can also travel on EF’s National Student Tour in 2017 for a once-in-a-lifetime experience commemorating the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge alongside thousands of other Canadians.
Vimy Memorial – Flickr via OliBac
Beaumont Hamel Caribou – Flickr via Kurtis Gardner_
Menin Gate – Flickr via R/DV/RS
Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery – Wikimedia Commons via DennisPeeters
Juno Beach Centre – Wikimedia Commons via Dr. Alexander Mayer