As we head into Easter weekend, it is time to reflect on a major event in Canadian history that occurred on Easter Monday of 1917 – the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Vimy Ridge is a long, high hill that dominates the surrounding landscape. It is located 175 kilometres north of Paris. The Battle of Vimy Ridge was significant in creating a national identity for Canada as it was the first instance that all four Canadian divisions, with troops from all over the country, fought together. 

Vimy Ridge had been captured by the Germany early in the war and had constructed formidable defences in the position. There were complex tunnels, trenches, artillery pieces, and machine guns to stop advances on Vimy Ridge by the Allies. Previous attempts to capture the ridge had been unsuccessful and cost hundreds of thousands of casualties.

In preparation for the battle, the Allies dug elaborate tunnel systems that contained train tracks, piped water, lights, and giant underground bunkers to stockpile supplies. Prior to the assault, the Allies made a prolonged artillery barrage on German positions for a week and Allied aircrafts shot down enemy aircrafts and observation ballons.

On April 9, 1917, at 5:30 a.m., the first wave of 15,000-20,000 soldiers attacked through the snow and machine gun fire. The Canadians advanced behind a “creeping barrage” of artillery fire in which infantry followed closely behind explosions to capture positions before the Germans could emerge from their underground bunkers. By noon, the heavily fortified ridge was captured by Canadian forces and the battle was won.

Of the 100,000 Canadians in the battle, approximately 3,600 died and 7,000 wounded. Four Canadian soldiers – Private William Milne, Lance-Sergeant Ellis Sifton, Captain Thain MacDowell and Private John Pattison – earned the Victoria Cross for their actions at Vimy Ridge. The Canadian National Vimy Ridge Memorial stands in France to remember the Canadian soldiers who were missing or presumed dead in France during WWI. Lest we forget their sacrifice.