The battle that many consider Canada’s coming of age is reaching a historic milestone, as a century has now passed since Canadian troops stormed Vimy Ridge
To mark the occasion a number of events are planned for Greater Victoria this weekend.
The battle, which took place on April 9, 1917, is commonly highlighted as a turning point in Canadian history, where the four Canadian divisions fought together as a unified fighting force for the first time. Close to 16,000 Canadian soldiers captured the ridge, at a cost of nearly 3,600 Canadian lives.
“It was the first major victory of the war,” said John Azar, co-chair of Victoria’s Vimy 100 event. “The four Canadian divisions came together, they won this victory, then they went on – there were other very significant battles the Canadians were involved in – but the Canadians became the shock troops. Basically they were the premier troops of the allies, and it started with that win at Vimy.”
And there is a Saanich presence to the battle of Vimy Ridge. Kerri Ward, an archive specialist in Saanich, said they know of at least 23 men from Saanich who either served at Vimy, were killed at Vimy or are commemorated at the national memorial at Vimy. She said they recently learned of another eight potential Saanich residents who served at Vimy but haven’t had time to research the names.
“The estimate is over 800 people from Saanich served in the First World War,” said Ward.
More than 300 of those names are included on an honour roll, which was commissioned in 1916 but never completed.
“The focus of the Saanich Remembers project is to complete that honour roll and get all the names,” she said.
That Saanich Remembers project will be part of a large exhibit Saanich Archives will have on display during the Vimy 100 event Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Bay Street Armoury.
“We will have a section of the display about Muggins, the Red Cross Dog who raised funds for the Red Cross,” said Evelyn Wolfe, supervisor of the Saanich Archives. “We will have display panels with photos and information about the impact of the war on Saanich families. We’ll also have an area specifically related to Vimy.”
There will also be a memorial book of Saanich soldiers who served at Vimy along with other documents, including the diary of a First World War soldier from Saanich.
Ward said a look through some of the papers filled out by the Saanich soldiers provides a glimpse into their lives.
“It’s amazing how many from Saanich were farmers, blacksmiths, cooks – very modest occupations, but they were all going over to do their part,” she said.
Azar, who also serves as chair of the Western Front Association, Pacific Coast Branch, said Saanich residents should take pride in the phenomenal work being done by archives staff.
“Saanich Archives has one of the premier First World War history exhibits, Saanich Remembers, in the whole region,” he said.
The free open house at the Bay Street Armoury is only one of the local events planned for this weekend. Starting at 11 a.m. Saturday the Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s) will invoke their right to the Freedom of the City.
“They will march down from the Armoury to Victoria City Hall, bang on the door and say ‘Can we have permission to march through the city with our guns, bayonets fixed, and our colours flying?’” said Azar, adding the city must grant them permission as the regiment was granted Freedom of the City many years ago. “That’s a tradition that goes back to Roman times.”
The 5th B.C. Field Regiment will also fire off a 100-round salute to Vimy Saturday night at Fort Rodd Hill.
“It’s timed for 8:30 p.m. which is 5:30 in the morning in France, when the battle started,” said Azar.