It isn't often that museums give up their artifacts, but the Imperial War Museum in London has agreed to surrender a flag that has deep historical significance for Canada.

"It's certainly our most important First World War Commonwealth artifact," said David Penn of the museum, "because it is a unique survivor. It is associated with Vimy Ridge and Canada played such a major part in the First World War."

For the past 85 years, the Red Ensign - with the emblems of Canada's four original provinces; Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick - has been kept in the museum. That it should survive in such good condition is remarkable. That it survived the battle of Vimy Ridge is astonishing.

In the First World War, Canadian troops accomplished what French and British troops could not: they overran a fortified German position at Vimy Ridge, France.

More than 3,000 Canadians lost their lives. But the victory symbolized the courage of a nation and the flag carried by the 5th Saskatchewan Battalion symbolized Canada.

Veterans and members of the Royal Canadian Legion have made pilgrimages to Vimy Ridge for decades. When remains were exhumed for Canada's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it was a soldier from Vimy Ridge that was chosen.

For years, requests were made of Britain to repatriate the flag to Ottawa. The museum said no.

But Duane Daly of the Legion wouldn't give up. Finally the Imperial War Museum agreed to a two-year loan.

"What a magnificent thing for us to bring back to Canada for our veterans to see, but also for young Canadians to see. It symbolized that great victory," said Daly.

The flag will be the centrepiece for a new Canadian War Museum. "The Vimy Red Ensign is very significant for the Canadian War Museum that's opening in 2005, because at Vimy Ridge, for many people, Canada became a nation," said Joseph Geurts, director of the Canadian War Museum

A nation symbolized by a flag that once was carried by Canadians at Vimy Ridge. Nearly a century later that flag will be entrusted to Canadians once more.