Yesterday, as Americans were split on the prospect of going to war in Syria, Canada celebrated the 100th anniversary of a bloody four-day battle that is said to have brought the country closer together. Is the Battle of Vimy Ridge one of those great defining moments in Canada’s history?
The Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge was muddy, and bloody. The battle took the lives of 3,598 Canadian men and wounded another 7,100 more. It was also not instrumental in the overall scope of World War I. At the time, newspapers reported it as “the beginning of the last great battles of the war,” but for the Canadians it marked the midway point of the slaughter. Many more battles lay ahead and the war continued for over another year.
What makes the Battle of Vimy Ridge stand out separately from the rest was how it unified the Canadian Corps. The fight was the first instance where all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force participated in a battle together.
In other words, Canadians from coast to coast fought alongside each other for the first time. I’m sure when the soldiers returned home, they spoke highly of their brothers in arms, regardless of the language they spoke, their ethnicity or their cultural ancestry.
Canadians, for decades, had their foreign policy decided for them by the British Empire. The aftermath of the battle is said to have been the catalyst that would eventually drive Canada’s case for an independent foreign policy.
Still, Canadians, academics and historians have argued over the significance of Vimy Ridge for years. Many maintain that the battle became more important as the decades passed. Perhaps they are right. At the time, Vimy set in motion one of the most divisive events in Canadian history.
Following the battle, Prime Minister Borden returned from London determined to introduce conscription, something he’d promised not to do when the war first broke out. He faced a furious response in the poorer areas of the Canadian population. In French speaking Quebec, deadly riots broke out in Quebec City. Parts of the Prairies also protested conscription as they were short on manpower.
Regardless of how history unfolded following the battle, one thing we can all agree on is how Canadians view the Battle of Vimy Ridge today. It certainly has that unifying effect, and perhaps that is all that matters.
I’ve never believed in ethnic or national pride, but one can’t help but be proud of the men and women who have shaped Canada over the years. A country which turns 150 years old in just a few short months. Did it all start at Vimy? Maybe, maybe not. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter as long as we remember the sacrifice of our soldiers, thousands of miles away in the muddy trenches of Vimy Ridge.