Toronto

'Take pride in your country': Oshawa students are in France for 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge battle

Thirty-two Oshawa high school students will be in northern France on Sunday to commemorate one of the most significant victories in Canadian military history.

32 students from Monsignor John Pereyma Catholic Secondary School left for France on Monday

These are just several of the 32 Oshawa high school students who will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in France on Sunday. (Chris Langenzarde/CBC)

Thirty-two Oshawa high school students will be in northern France on Sunday to commemorate one of the most significant victories in Canadian military history. 

Teens from Monsignor John Pereyma Catholic Secondary School will be at Vimy Ridge to observe the 100th anniversary of the battle — and their excitement is palpable.

"Just sitting in the classroom and only seeing pictures and reading about it, it doesn't give you that immersed feel of where our troops went and stood their ground and fought for our freedom and the freedom of others," Michael Nearing told CBC Toronto.

'Many people were willing to sacrifice their lives so that you could live yours the way you do today,' student Michael Nearing said. (Chris Langenzarde/CBC)

Every student raised $3,000 for the trip by holding walk-a-thons and bake sales. Each of them also each researched a soldier who contributed to the battle at Vimy Ridge, and for some of the students, that research included a personal connection.

Cameron Bonesso, a Grade 11 student, read about his great-great-uncle, Colonel  Arthur Joseph Losier. He served as a surgeon in the First World War.

"It's amazing to find out about people you didn't even know were related to you, and they played such a big part in the war," Bonesso said.

Each student researched a Canadian soldier who fought in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. (Chris Langenzarde/CBC)

For others, that connection to the military is even closer.

"I wanted to get involved in the trip because a lot of my family members have been in the Canadian Armed Forces over the years," Nearing said.

"My great-uncle, my grandfather, and even my father and his brother. The military has always been a part of my life, so I wanted to go and see some of the locations where troops fought on to keep our country free and great," he said.

The students left for France earlier this week and will join tens of thousands of Canadian youths for the 100th anniversary on Sunday.

The Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France. (CBC)

The Battle of Vimy Ridge marked the first time all four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought together as a single unit. Of the estimated 100,000 Canadian soldiers who took part in the four-day battle, nearly 3,600 were killed, and another 7,000 were wounded.

When the battle ended, the Canadians had done something other allied armies had failed to do: take Vimy Ridge from the Germans. Many historians see it as a coming of age for a young country trying to forge a separate identity from Britain.

"You should take pride in your country," Nearing said. "Many people were willing to sacrifice their lives so that you could live yours the way you do today."

About the Author

Julia Whalen

Associate Producer, CBC Toronto

Julia has been working in journalism since 2012 — first as a newspaper reporter in Moncton, before making the move to Toronto to work for CBC. She's particularly interested in social issues, health and the creative community, and is a proud Maritimer and dedicated fundraiser for type 1 diabetes research.

With files from Morgan Dunlop