Many historians and writers consider the Canadian victory at Vimy a defining moment for Canada, when the country emerged from under the shadow of Britain and felt capable of greatness. Canadian troops also earned a reputation as formidable, effective troops because of the stunning success. But it was a victory at a terrible cost, with more than 10,000 killed and wounded.
The Canadian Corps was ordered to seize Vimy Ridge in April 1917. [Map] Situated in northern France, the heavily-fortified seven-kilometre ridge held a commanding view over the Allied lines. The Canadians would be assaulting over an open graveyard since previous French attacks had failed with over 100,000 casualties. ...
Although I know a fair amount about World War I -era Canada and the US, I know (and care) very little about the details of any specific battle of that terrible, useless war. The Canadian commemoration of Vimy seems most analogous, in US terms, to events surrounding the invasion of Normandy, known as D-Day.
What's interesting to me is the idea that a World War I battle helped create Canada's identity as a separate nation. In 1917, Canada already was a nation from separate Great Britain, not a colony. Clearly this battle is seen as a defining moment, but I always wonder about defining moments. They may be more products of the media than reality. Would an entire generation of Americans feel that the assassination of John F. Kennedy was their defining moment if they hadn't constantly seen, heard and read that it was? Maybe, maybe not. Culture is what we see reflected around us.
I wonder, too, how many present-day Canadians relate to a 1917 battle at all. Older folks of British descent, sure. And possibly the millions of Canadians descended from the mass influx of immigrants just prior to World War I, from many Eastern European countries, from Scandinavia, from the US, and from elsewhere. But what of the huge influx of Canadians who came here, or whose parents came here, after 1950? Or 1970? Or in the last 10 years? It would be interesting to know.
In our first months here, I saw how Remembrance Day (November 11) is a much more important holiday in Canada than in the US. Canada was involved in World War I on the same level as Britain, while the US just popped in for a quick kill at the end. (Some Canadians like to crow about that, but why was the US there at all?) In the US, what was originally called Armistice Day is now Veterans Day, and has very little connection to the Great War.
Did Vimy really mean what it is said to mean? Is World War I as much a part of Canadian culture as we are told? What does it mean to you?
I know at least two wmtc readers who'll have something interesting to say about this. I look forward to their comments.