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What memorial bridge erected in Canada's capital was named in honour of the heroes of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, France?

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Structural memorials, such as arches, buildings, walkways, gardens, and benches have become popular in their usage since the 19th century. Bridges that connect across waterways or other impasses have also been a prevalent type of memorial. One such memorial is the 'Vimy Memorial Bridge' located in Ottawa, Canada's national capital – connecting Strandherd Drive with Earl Armstrong Road, linking the communities of Barrhaven and Riverside South.

Originally named the Stranherd-Armstrong Bridge, work began in 2010 but was marred by delays when the original contractor went into receivership after having completed sixty percent of the project. Horseshoe Hill Construction completed the remainder of the bridge, which was officially opened on 12 July 2014 at a total cost of $48 million shared by the Government of Canada, the Province of Ontario and the City of Ottawa. This steel reinforced concrete composite bridge was designed by Parsons Corporation, a leading international defense, intelligence, and critical infrastructure firm and since its completion has earned wide recognition among the engineering profession, including being awarded the prestigious 'Gustav Lindenthal Medal' in 2015 by the 'International Bridge Conference.' As shown in the photograph, this 'truss arch bridge' is an imposing structure having a main span of 125 metres, a total length of 143 metres, a total width of 50 metres and an arch rise of 25.3 metres at its highest point. The bridge has three vehicle lanes, a dedicated bus lane, as well as a bicycle lane and pedestrian walkways on each side. As part of the Chapman Mills Conservation Area, there is also a 1.8 km trail that runs along the natural shoreline of the Rideau River and passes underneath the bridge.

The Manotick and Barrhaven branches of the Royal Canadian Legion proposed to the City's transportation committee to change the name of the recently-opened Strandherd-Armstrong Bridge to the Vimy Memorial Bridge "to honour the many heroes of Vimy Ridge." The City's commemorative naming committee reviewed the formal application on 28 July 2014 and endorsed the proposal as "the nominated name has historical significance." In their submission, the Royal Canadian Legion felt that the renaming of the bridge "would be an appropriate way to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I and the epic battle of Vimy Ridge, led by Canadians to one of their greatest victories. This would also ensure that WWI troops, and the great sacrifice they made for all Canadians, will not easily be forgotten." The transportation committee unanimously agreed with the veterans' proposal at their meeting of 1 October 2014 and city council accepted its recommendation.

One month later, on 8 November 2014, elected representatives (including Jim Watson, Mayor of the City of Ottawa; Steve Desroches, Deputy Mayor and Councillor for Gloucester South-Nepean; Pierre Pollièvre, Member of Parliament for Carleton; and Lisa MacLeod, Member of Provincial Parliament for Nepean), Royal Canadian Legion officials, other veterans and members of the public were on hand for the official renaming ceremony to coincide with the centennial anniversary of the start of the First World War, and the Battle of Vimy Ridge – a key battle of the Great War, which took place in northern France in April 1917. During the ceremony, Deputy Mayor Desroches remarked that Thain Wendell MacDowell (16 September 1890 – 28 March 1960) who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Vimy Ridge enlisted in Ottawa with the 38th Infantry Battalion which is now perpetuated by The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (Duke of Edinburgh's Own). Desroches also noted that "the bridge carries significant historical meaning as it spans the Rideau Canal, a National Historic Site of Canada, a Canadian Heritage River and a UNESCO World Heritage Site." A commemorative plaque placed at the entrance of the bridge also indicates that "Canadian Regiments from coast to coast fought together and triumphed at Vimy Ridge, helping to create a stronger sense of Canadian identity and community. Of the 100,000 Canadians who fought valiantly at Vimy Ridge, 3,598 died and approximately 7,400 were injured." The ceremony was highlighted by a parade over the bridge by The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa, also recognized as "Ottawa’s Regiment."

On this day, 12 July 2021, we commemorate nearly 107 years since the beginning of the Great War and mark the seventh anniversary of the official opening of Vimy Memorial Bridge in Ottawa, Canada, honouring the many heroes of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, France.

André M. Levesque

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