The Vimy Legacy: What Vimy means to me

by Lee Windsor

The 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge and the national monument unveiled there in 1936 offer a doorway into Canada’s wider experience in the First World War and the peace process that followed. The experience established deep bonds between Canadian troops and the people of France and Belgium that they lived among and endured with.

Our Vimy Home

Recent research for our Loyal Gunners book project revealed that nowhere was the connection between Canadian troops and the French people deeper than at Vimy. The Canadian Corps lived and served around the Vimy sector longer than anywhere else on the Western Front. With the exception of short term deployments to Passchendaele in late 1917 and Amiens in mid-1918, Canadians lived for nearly two years in the Vimy sector from December 1916 to October 1918.

French villages behind the Vimy sector were familiar Canadian supply, rest, and training bases for the second half of the Great War. Indeed most Canadian survivors of the war served at Vimy in those years, if not during the April 1917 battle itself. Off-duty Canadians interacted often with the population, frequenting the ‘Estaminets’, cafes and other businesses, and helping out on local farms. The shell-battered Givenchy-en-Gohelle at the foot of Vimy Ridge is one of those villages Canadians came to know well after the Germans abandoned it in April 1917.

The April 1917 battle itself marks Canada’s important role at a key point in the development of developing a modern, effective Allied military method for breaking the Western Front stalemate. Canadian success at Vimy earned the respect of French, British, and new American Allies, and helped evolve the system that finally defeated the German Army and liberated occupied France and Belgium in late 1918. The cost in Canadian lives at Vimy was high, higher than any other battle in the nation’s history, contributing to the conscription crisis that nearly tore the country apart.

The Vimy Ridge doorway is also the centre of Canada’s entire Canadian Great War experience. From its commanding location at the east end of the Artois heights, on a clear day one can see north to the Belgian border near Ypres, south to the Picardy plains of the Somme and eastward to the Monchy and Dury heights of the Hindenburg line before Cambrai. It is an ideal location for a national memorial to Canada’s whole Great War contribution and loss.