Calgary·Q&A

Calgary man plays flute carved from Vimy oaks to commemorate historic WW I battle

A Calgary man is heading to France this week to honour Canadian soldiers who fought in the First World War — by playing a flute carved from Vimy oaks.

Ryan Mullens will travel to France to mark 100-year anniversary of battle of Vimy Ridge

A Calgary man will be playing a special flute in France this week to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge. 0:53

A Calgary man will be playing a special flute in France this week to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge.

Ryan Mullens, a former Canadian Armed Forces member himself, has a wooden flute carved out of wood that originated from acorns collected at Vimy Ridge a century ago.

He stopped by the Calgary Eyeopener to share more about the instrument and what he'll be doing to honour the Canadian soldiers who fought in the First World War.

Ryan Mullens demonstrates how to play the wooden flute he'll take with him to France. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Q: Tell us about your flute.

A: This flute is made out of a very special wood. After the battle of Vimy, there was a soldier named Lt. Miller. He actually collected some acorns off of the battlefield and sent them home to Canada. So they've been growing in Canada for about the last 100 years, and when I found out I was going overseas, I got ahold of a friend of mine who makes flutes and I thought it would be an interesting project to see if we could have something made to honour those soldiers.

It's made in the style of a Native American flute. It's two flutes, so it creates a droning effect. It has a little bit of a bagpipe sound to it. 

Q: You're a former soldier yourself — when did you learn to play the flute?

A: I was a combat engineer here in Calgary and I spent nine years in the reserves. I actually learned to do this when I was in Victoria at school — I picked up the flute as a way to de-stress from the day and I've played it ever since. I'm by no means a professional flute player.

Q: What's your connection to Vimy?

A: I had a couple grandfathers who fought in the First World War, so that really connected me there. In my own experience in the reserves, there were about three different individuals who gave their lives over in Afghanistan. I wasn't exceptionally close to these guys, I did work with them, and they were just guys like us. They had dreams, aspirations and they chose to serve and they sacrificed for Canada. 

When you think of the soldiers at Vimy, that's 3,600 guys like them. And when you think of the First World War, that's 68,000. It's just a tremendous amount of sacrifice. This is really about the soldiers and remembering that. We don't forget them. The other part is we remember for us as well, so we don't make the same mistakes we've done in the past.


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener