April 9 marks the 101th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, part of the Battle of Arras. On a snowy Easter Monday in 1917, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought together for the first (and only) time. Training and tactics won the ridge, but at the cost of about 3,600 Canadian lives.
While opinions differ on the importance of the battle itself, most would agree that Vimy Ridge is an important site of Canadian remembrance: a 250-acre memorial park on the former battleground is the site of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.
Walter Allward’s soaring monument overlooks the Douai Plain, commemorating all Canadian WW1 soldiers killed or presumed dead in France who have no known grave – 11,285 names in all. (Another 6,994 names of Canadians missing in Belgium are on the Menin Gate in Ypres.) The inscription reads: “To the valour of their countrymen in the Great War and in memory of their 60,000 dead this monument is raised by the people of Canada.”
The two pylons represent Canada and France and their sacrifices in the war. Allegorical sculptures grace the monument: Canada Bereft; the Mourners (female and male); the Spirit of Sacrifice (Sacrifice and the Torch Bearer); the Defenders (Breaking of the Sword and Sympathy of the Canadians for the Helpless); and the Virtues (faith, justice, peace, honour, charity, truth, knowledge and hope).
Laura Brandon’s article, Art, Religion, & Iconography in the Vimy Memorial: An Overview, is a good summary of the symbolism of the monument.
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