100 years after Battle of Vimy Ridge, Edmontonians pay their respects

Edmonton remembered the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge on Sunday with the largest military parade in the city since the Second World War, a "proud moment" for military members who were there to witness the event.

'It is up to all of us to pass the torch to keep the story of what happened 100 years ago alive'

Military members salute during a ceremony in Edmonton on Sunday commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. (CBC/Roberta Bell)

Edmonton remembered the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge on Sunday with the largest military parade since the Second World War.

Now known as the battle that "forged a nation," Canadian troops seized Vimy Ridge from the Germans on April 9, 1917. It was the first time the various factions of the country's military fought together; 3,600 soldiers were killed and more than 7,000 were injured during the three-day battle.

Around 300 participants, including members of the military and Edmonton Police Service, marched from the legislature to city hall, where a historic vigil was held at the Edmonton Cenotaph. 

Throughout the day, the members of the military guard were joined by members of the public. Never before have civilians stood alongside soldiers in Canada fulfilling such a duty. 

Civilians and soldiers side-by-side at Edmonton's Vimy Ridge celebration

5 years ago
Duration 0:20
Civilians have never stood beside soldiers in a vigil, marking a first in Canada.

Hundreds of Edmontonians gathered in Churchill Square to take in the event, which also featured Camp Vimy — an interactive educational exhibit created to provide a sense of the treacherous nature of the battlefield and the ridge. Interpreters in period dress shared stories and letters from Vimy, and Lord Strathcona officers were on hand with horses in a corral.

"There was so much sacrifice that was made by soldiers that came from our home and our community, and we're the benefactors of that. That's why we can be here today and give thanks and remember them," Vimy 100 committee chair Carolyn Patton said.

(CBC/Roberta Bell)

High price to pay

David Rodgers was one of many Edmontonians who came out to remember those lost. His grandfather and great uncle fought at Vimy, and his father fought in the Second World War.

Needless to say, remembering those who were lost in battle is important to Rodgers. "Canadian military has always meant a whole lot to me," he said Sunday, emotion heavy in his voice.

"We have to remember those who walked that road and went over the top for us."

David Rodgers said it's important to understand and remember the sacrifices previous generations made for the life Canadians live today. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

He said Canadians have those who fought in Vimy and other wars to thank for the lives they live today. "None of them got to live the life I had," he said.

Events like this and Remembrance Day are very important to Rodgers, who said everyone should know the sacrifice previous generations put themselves through.

"Learn your history, learn the sacrifice that was given for you," he said. "We can't let this fade. The price that was paid was just way too high."

'A very proud moment'

Children hung notes scrawled on red and white maple leafs on a wishing tree in the square.

Anya Hamilton-Fairbairn, 10, had a message for soldiers who fought in the battle.

"I said, 'Thank you for your life for the war.' Cause they sacrificed themselves for the war," she said.

Jordan Dick, 10, said the day made him proud to be a Canadian. The young cadet said he's been learning more about the war, and the tough conditions soldiers faced.

"The war was a pretty important thing for us Canadians," he said.

Mark Beare, chief of staff of the 3rd Canadian Division Support Group, said he was proud to wear his uniform Sunday. (CBC/Roberta Bell)

Mark Beare, chief of staff of the 3rd Canadian Division Support Group, said he was encouraged to see so many Edmontonians gathered for the event on an overcast day.

"Anytime I wear my uniform on events such as this, it's a very proud moment," he said.

"I'm very proud to wear the uniform and on an anniversary such as this … it makes you think you're happy to be part of something that's much bigger than you.

"It doesn't matter how old you are, it's important to understand our history and where we came from."

Mayor Don Iveson gave a speech during the ceremony, declaring April 9 Vimy Ridge Day in Edmonton.

Iveson, who said he brought his family to the event, noted the importance of teaching future generations about the battle, 100 years later.

"It is up to all of us to pass the torch to keep the story of what happened 100 years ago alive and well and respected. It was the first time that our country came together … and fought as one," he said. 

"And that is something to be honoured. Something to be held high."

(CBC/Roberta Bell)

With files from Roberta Bell