Canadians are celebrating this country’s 150th birthday this year.
They have also been marking the 100th anniversary of a military victory by Canadians at Vimy Ridge.
Capturing and keeping the ridge during the First World War in April 1917 has become a source of pride and reverence, but the victory came at such great cost that it would rightly temper our enthusiasm.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge observance included a reception and ceremony on Saturday at Branch 34 of the Royal Canadian Legion in New Glasgow.
Thousands of Canadians have travelled to France to visit the striking Canadian National Vimy Memorial to Canadian military personnel who died during the battle and throughout the war. The monument’s more poignant tribute is to the Canadian casualties whose locations are unknown.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge raged from April 9 to 12. That’s Sunday to Wednesday this year. Records show it was Easter Monday to Thursday in 1917.
Several things distinguish Vimy Ridge. It was the first time Canada’s four army divisions fought together in the war. It was a battle with purpose. Victory was the product of planning, preparation, strategy and execution. The ridge was won and kept until the war’s end.
A Canadian eventually commanded the Canadian Corps. Winning Vimy Ridge helped.
Consensus has been reached on the battle’s importance. It is said that it marked the birth of a nation, as did other battles won on Canadian soil during the War of 1812. With this military success, Canada did become a little less a dominion of the British Empire and little more of a country.
Canada has other nation-building milestones. They include the Statute of Westminster that increased the political and judicial power for Canada and other Commonwealth countries, overcoming bitter and personal debate to fashion a Canadian flag in 1965 and repatriating the Canadian Constitution and establishing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982.
The cost of winning the battle illustrates the greater cost of winning the war.
Conscription was introduced to replace the dead and wounded Canadians in the war. Canadians of French origin opposed it, the country was nearly torn apart over it and it has been a cause of tension since within French and English Canada.
Like other countries, Canada’s supply of young people a century ago devastated its domestic economy. An account about a young women whose husband-to-be died in the war and who was well into middle age before she would eventually marry illustrates the toll exacted throughout Canada, far from the battle field.
Like any commemoration, even a centennial one, the requirement is for the right measure of pride and perspective. That has been tested this week.