Calgary

Soldiers, police and parks staff hike up mountain to reach Canada's Vimy Ridge

Visitors came together in Waterton Lakes National Park to slog through the snow to Canada's Vimy Ridge, which is named after the battle that took place in France 100 years ago.

Parks Canada staff organized the event and led the expedition through mud and snow

20 people trek 12 km to honour bravery, sacrifice 0:47

They unfurled the Canadian flag at Vimy Ridge with smiles on their faces after a four-hour trek to the mountain top. 

A wide array of visitors came together in Waterton Lakes National Park Thursday to slog through the snow to Canada's Vimy Ridge, which is named after the battle that took place in France 100 years ago. 

"The big thing is that Vimy was a psychological point, it brought our country together. It was something — in a time that was so dark — that we could rally behind," said Maj. Kristian Udesen as the tired crowd of hikers gathered round the flag, each holding a piece. 

"It was done at such a cost and it's something that we have to remember to this day, because it's almost unfathomable in the peace that we live in."

Cpl. Jordan Thompson grew up just down the road, in Mountain View, Alta., and because of that he jumped at the chance to travel from his base in Edmonton to commemorate the battle of Vimy Ridge close to home. 

"I was so happy to hear we were doing this," said Thompson. "I volunteered right away."

Parks Canada staff organized the event and led the expedition through mud and snow. 
Vimy Peak looms large over the Waterton townsite, just behind the peak on the left side is Vimy Ridge. (Sarah Lawrynuik/CBC)

Special connections to Waterton

Dennis Madsen, a conservation manager in the national park,  brought along the medals his grandfather earned through his role fighting in France in 1917. 

"I don't know his detailed war records, whether he actually fought at Vimy, but he was injured very close to Vimy on June 29, 1917. So I was very excited to come on the Vimy hike in honour of my grandfather," Madsen said. 

Another Parks Canada employee, Edwin Knox, came along with a dozen or so photos of family members, all of whom served in the First World War in different capacities. 

"Many of us on the hike, in our heart, have a real sentiment for the significance of this anniversary," Knox said. 
The flag unfurled at Canada's Vimy Ridge has previously flown atop Canada's parliament buildings, as well as above Canada's Vimy monument in France. (Sarah Lawrynuik/CBC)

On the evening before the hike, Parks Canada hosted a dinner in honour of locals who had fought in the Great War. Even today, Waterton only has a population of 105 people, and yet dozens of posters commemorating the service of men and women who lived and worked in the park line the walls of the dinner hall. 

Because so many Waterton landmarks were being named in the early 1900s, many are tributes to famous WWI soldiers, leaders and battles.

"The war effort has been written into the landscape," said Meg Stanley, a historian with Parks Canada. 

Brits and Canadians together, again

Three British soldiers joined the group, all part of the training contingent based at Canadian Forces Base Suffield. 

"This is an opportunity, a really great privilege, for the soldiers of the British Army to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our Canadian brethren, who 100 years ago stood shoulder-to-shoulder at the battle of Vimy, fighting together, as we have in recent times in Afghanistan," said Maj. John Cartwright-Terry

​"A chance to remember the fallen and commemorate the great battle, and the great victory." 

The goal of the hike was ultimately to bring groups of people together who all wanted to commemorate the epic and gruesome battle, Udesen said.

"Sharing a hardship, however slight in compared to Vimy — it was a fitting way to remember those people that also had to come together to overcome something." 

About the Author

Sarah Lawrynuik is a freelance journalist based in Calgary who has covered news stories in Canada and around the world, including in France, Hungary, Ukraine and Iraq. She has worked for CBC in Halifax, Winnipeg and Calgary. She is the 2019/2020 Gordon Sinclair Roving Reporter, bringing stories from Eastern Europe back to Canada.