This is Vimy Ridge Day, marking the 96th anniversary of what many see as a battle that helped define Canada as a nation.
Given the Conservative government's fixation on things military, it was surprising to see that commemoration of this watershed event at the National War Memorial was being led not by Prime Minister Stephen Harper but Gordon O'Connor, the Tories' chief whip.
But really, do we need the prime minister to help us mark the day?
Next year marks the centenary of the First World War and John Babcock, Canada's last known soldier to have served in that war died in 2010 at age 109. The living links to that war are gone, so it's up to us to remember what they did and why.
That's why the dozens of local commemorations are probably more critical than the still-important national wreath-laying in Ottawa.
For example, military cadets in Kitchener, Ont., didn't wait until this week, choosing to commemorate the battle last Wednesday at the local armoury, according to The Record.
The London Free Press reported local Army Cadet Cpl. Ciaran Dodds used a commemorative pin-selling contest to win a trip to Canada's Vimy Memorial in northern France to learn about the battle's legendary Canadian commander, Gen. Sir Arthur Currie.
"At the start, it was mostly about going to Vimy," Dodds told the Free Press."And then as I started to learn more about the cause, I believed it to be a very good cause.
"Sir Arthur Currie came along and did what no one else could -- he took on Vimy. And Canada, which wasn't really thought of as very good at war, or really as its own country, broke through."
[ Related: Vimy Ridge's shock and awe remembered ]
Last weekend, 160 cadets from across Manitoba gathered at Winnipeg's Minto Armoury to mark the four-day battle. CTV News reported. For many of the young men and women, it may just have been a trip to the city, but they may also retain some sense of what the battle meant.
What did it mean?
On April 9, 1917, four Canadian divisions, fighting for the first time as a Canadian Corps and under a Canadian general, captured a German position that had hitherto withstood previous assaults by French forces that resulted in more than 100,000 casualties, according to historian Tim Cook's account for the Canadian War Museum.
Currie, under the supervision of the corps' British commander, Sir Julian Byng, prepared the Canadian force rigorously for the attack. Detailed maps of the German positions were created from aerial reconnaissance photos. Sappers (engineers) built tunnels to the jump-off point so troops could be massed in secret and units rehearsed their roles.
The week-long artillery barrage before the assault was not unusual for the the First World War, but Cook points out the gunners employed new tactics to pinpoint and destroy enemy positions.
At 5:30 a.m. on April 9 (Easter Monday), the first wave of 15,000 Canadians left their lines and moved up the long slope towards the chalky heights.
Despite immense artillery bombardment, and a creeping barrage that protected the attackers, they faced withering fire from the German positions.
The Canadians achieved many of their initial objectives on schedule but the overall fight see-sawed for three more days before they controlled the ridge. Almost 3,600 Canadians died and another 7,000 were wounded, but they accomplished what no allied army had done. It was one of the few bright spots in the overall offensive around Arras, which failed.
The Canadian forces involved came from all parts of Canada, leading Brig.-Gen. A.E. Ross later to declare of the battle's start,"in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation."
Canada lost more than 60,000 soldiers in the First World War, and another 156,000 wounded, a proportionately huge sacrifice for country of only eight million. Canadians fought in many of the bloodiest battles but Vimy became the touchstone of identity because it was seen as a Canadian victory.
France ceded a 290-acre portion of Vimy Ridge for a beautiful Canadian-designed memorial that was dedicated in 1936, just three years before another world war would devastate Europe. The memorial, now a national historic site that includes portions of the trench lines, commemorates not just the Canadian casualties of Vimy but the entire war.
Despite its pivotal national-building role, a poll done in 2008 on the eve of the 90th anniversary of the end of the First World War found a shocking ignorance of Canada's role in the war, never mind Vimy Ridge.
"Since the death of Canada’s last First World War veteran — John Babcock — three years ago, something has changed in this country," he wrote.
"There appears to have been a notable resurgence of interest in our role in the Great War, particularly among the young."
[ Related: Canadian students stage Vimy march through London ]
Last year, he noted, almost 4,000 young Canadians travelled with their teachers to Vimy to mark the 95th anniversary of the battle. The foundation also sponsored Vimy Week activities to Canadian high school students, which Shannon said were oversubscribed.
Those young people showed great pride and achievement in the sacrifices of Canadians in the battle, he said.
"They also expressed a meaningful connection to and better understanding of the emergence of a more independent and confident Canada in the early 20th century — an open and civil society committed to social justice."
Vimy should not be just a battle whose meaning will fade from memory, like the War of 1812.
"Every April 9 in Canada, Vimy Day should be a day of national celebration,' said Shannon.
"Let’s all consider our unique history and Canada’s place as a civil and open society — a beacon to the world. The Vimy legacy has helped to build a bridge to a well-deserved national sense of pride and achievement. Vimy inspires!"