| images by john ecker, pantheon photography

Canadian Memorial, Vimy, France

CANADIAN MEMORIAL, VIMY, FRANCE:  I’ve visited Canada’s Memorial a few times over the years.  Each time, the skies have been mostly gloomy, adding an even great sense of solemnity.  When the clouds do break, and the sun shines on the bright white stone, the sight’s true beauty emerges.  The memorial overlooks the Douai plain in northern France, about ten kilometers from the town of Arras.

On April 9, 1917 the Canadian Corps was ordered to seize Vimy Ridge. The heavily-fortified seven-kilometre ridge held a commanding view over the Allied lines. Previous French attacks had failed with over 100,000 casualties.

The names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were killed in France and whose final resting place was then unknown are carved into the stone. Facing the Douai visitors can see other places where Canadians fought and died. 7,000 plus more are buried in 30 war cemeteries within a 20-kilometre radius of the Memorial.

At the base of the Memorial, these words appear:

To the valour of their
Countrymen in the Great War
And in memory of their sixty
Thousand dead this monument
Is raised by the people of Canada

The Memorial was designed by Canadian architect and sculptor Walter Allward. The foundation of the memorial is a bed of 11,000 tonnes of concrete.  It is reinforced with hundreds of tonnes of steel. The figures were carved on site.  The large cloaked figure on the front (east) side, was carved from a single, 30-tonne block.

Over the decades, the memorial became weather worn and damaged by the elements.  In 2007 a major re-construction and restoration project was completed.  The work was massive.  The main elements of the memorial were pretty much dismantled. The monument was re-pointed; damaged stone was replaced; lighting and draining was improved.

Many people assume that the ‘front’ of the memorial is on the approach from the parking area.  On the contrary the front is actually on the opposite side.  To full appreciate this sculpture, it is necessary to walk to the edge of the lawn in front of the monument, with your back to the Douai plain. 

Nearby the memorial is the Vimy Canadian Cemetery.  Row, upon row of graves– many without names.

Photos by John Ecker     |       Pantheon Photography

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