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When did Vimy Ridge become a National Historic Site of Canada?

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It was not until 1996 that the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada designated Vimy Ridge - located in northern France, fourteen kilometres north of the city of Arras - as a national historic site of Canada for the following reasons: "Canada's accomplishment, contribution and sacrifice in the First World War are themselves of major national significance; the War itself was a landmark in the development of Canada as a nation; Vimy is the site of a great Canadian victory in the First World War; it memorializes Canadians lost in the conflict who have no known grave, and is a place of remembrance marked by the towering work of Canadian sculptor Walter S. Allward." The high escarpment of Vimy Ridge (known as Hill 145) overlooks the meadows, woods and farmland of the Douai Plain and formed part of the Western Front during the Great War. Since October 1914, the German Army occupied and reinforced the ridge in order to protect the industrial centre of Lille and the coal mines of Lens. In 1915, the French suffered an estimated 140,000 casualties attempting to recapture the ridge. By the Spring of 1917, in an effort to break through the 800-kilometre German line, the Allies planned a new offensive in the Arras Sector that would task the Canadian Corps to secure Vimy Ridge and protect the flank of the British 3rd Army attacking simultaneously immediately south of Vimy. Under Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng, the Commander of the Canadian Corps, the four-day assault was launched with 20,000 Canadians emerging from the trenches at 5:30 a.m. on Easter Monday, 9 April 1917, and resulted in 10,602 Canadian casualties, of which 3,598 were fatal. It was on Thursday, 12 April, amidst a snowstorm, that "the pimple" was finally captured and the Battle of Vimy Ridge was over. Canadians captured a total of 54 guns, 104 trench mortars and 124 machine guns at the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Recognizing the importance of Vimy as a place of victory and remembrance, this 117-hectare (248-acre) site was granted to Canada by France in 1922 in perpetuity for use as a memorial park. Allward, an experienced Toronto sculptor and architectural draughtsman, began work on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in 1925 and it was unveiled eleven years later, in July 1936 by King Edward VIII in the presence of more than 100,000, including 6,000 Canadian veterans who had travelled overseas for the ceremony. The memorial is dedicated to the commemoration of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, to the accomplishment and sacrifice of Canadian Expeditionary Force members killed during the First World War, and to those 11,285 missing Canadian soldiers with no known grave. In addition to the national monument found on the Vimy site, there is also a tract of the former battlefield fought over by French, German and British troops that was cleared and made safe in order to preserve it as a memorial park. Shown in the photograph is part of the captured German trenches with one of the original gun emplacements. It is worth noting at the top of the photograph sheep from local farmers used to graze the site as the rugged terrain and unearthed unexploded munitions make it too dangerous for human operators to cut the grass.

On this day, 9 April 2022, we commemorate the 105th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and mark 26 years since the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada designated Vimy Ridge as a national historic site of Canada.

André M. Levesque

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