It was one hundred years ago today that Canada became a nation, or so the social historians like to put it.
Nationhood is an elusive idea. Canada became a country on July 1, 1867. We were not completely independent though. It wasn’t until 1931 that our Supreme Court actually became supreme. Before that you could appeal cases from it to Britain. And it was only in 1982 that we got a home-grown constitution.
For many though, the date of independence is not what they remember. April 9, 1917 was the day of our nationhood, the Battle of Vimy Ridge. That was the first time all the four divisions of the Canadian Army fought together under Canadian (as opposed to British) command.
It is a battle steeped in our national myth, the impregnable ridge that neither the British nor the French had managed to capture in years of trying. The Canadians, using new military tactics, took it in a couple of days. With great shedding of blood. And we have never left it. A memorial was constructed during the Depression to honour the memory of those who fought and died in that place.
At night you can see the Vimy memorial from 20 kilometres away. The sane on a clear day I would think. It is an imposing sight, a place of pilgrimage for any Canadian visiting Europe.
Radio, television and newspapers have all been offering extensive coverage of Vimy, the battle and remembrance for more than a week now. The history is front and centre and our national pride is stirred.
We are a modest nation, especially when it comes to military achievements, but we make an exception for Vimy Ridge. That may explain why officials are expecting at least 25,000 Canadians to visit there this weekend. If your family was Canadian a century ago it is likely you have an ancestor who fought in that battle.
I’ve spent my life reading about the battle and the monument. When I was younger there were veterans of Vimy Ridge still alive, though I ever talked with them about the war. But reading about it isn’t the same as being there. Word portraits and pictures cannot convey the impression of the history and the monument. If you find yourself in Europe anywhere within a thousand kilometres of Vimy, you should make the effort to see it.