The day a nation became transformed by its heroes.
Precisely 90 years ago today in a field in France, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps began their legendary assault on German forces in one of the pivotal clashes of the First World War -the battle of Vimy Ridge.
My grandfather and several great uncles were there in the thick of it. They were among the lucky ones who fought that day and eventually returned home to marry and raise a family. For thousands it was their last day. Generations are fortunate when they can produce valiant young men and women who willingly answer their country’s call. But as for our leaders, we are often less blessed. For it is still the folly of those in charge, who command from the bunkers of grandiose ego and narrow thinking, that is the cause of the carnage that is also the legacy of too many generations.
My grandfather seldom talked about the “Great War” and never once sought any special praise or recognition for what he had done. It is said that the Germans holding the ridge could not believe how the Canadian troops just kept coming and coming. Little did those scruffy kids from Saint John and Timmins, Toronto and Montreal, Calgary and Moosejaw know that on that cold Easter Monday of April 9, 1917, as they climbed and took a hill among the ceaseless mud below and the thundering roars of death above, they also helped a country ascend into history as a nation in its own right. It would be one now that produced its own heroes, and fought under its own flag and set the stage with those values to produce an offspring that was to become known as the Greatest Generation.
Canada’s brave young men and women continue this tradition of service in Afghanistan, where since 2001, 116 members of the military and one diplomat -and their heartbroken but boundlessly proud families- have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Many dates live in the dusty books of history. The valor of the Canadians who took a hill in France and transformed their nation on this date in 1917 lives in the hearts of Canadians forever.
Originally posted April 9, 2007. Updated April 9, 2009.