Edmonton plans major tribute for 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge victory

Edmonton plans major tribute for 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge victory

It was hazy, grey and cold with wind blowing as Canadian soldiers seized Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917.

The Canadians arrived in December to prepare for what is now known as the battle that 'forged a nation' as our soldiers helped change the course of the First World War.

To observe the 100th anniversary, Edmonton has a series of events planned on and around April 9, including a commemoration parade, a vigil and a reconstruction of Camp Vimy in Churchill Square.

The parade will march through downtown Sunday — the largest military parade in Edmonton since the Second World War. 

Around 300 participants will march in the parade, including members of the military and the Edmonton Police Service. It leaves from the legislature at 11 a.m. and travels down 108th Street to Jasper Avenue, and on to 100th Avenue to city hall.

There's also a vigil planned at the Edmonton Cenotaph.

But a highlight for many may be the construction of Camp Vimy, which organizers say will provide a sense of the size treacherous nature of the battlefield and the ridge.

 Interpreters in period dress will share stories and letters from Vimy, and history buffs can collect commemorative Vimy soldier cards. Lord Strathcona soldiers will be on hand with their horses in the Vimy corral.

In his book, Victory of Vimy, Canada Comes of Age, former Edmonton author Ted Barris describes how the Canadians were instrumental in taking the ridge and how the success fostered a new sense of a nation. 

"Their task was to take the ridge," viewed as a key strategic location, Barris told CBC Edmonton AM's Mark Connolly Thursday.

The British and French called Canadians troops 'bums' because they didn't consider them career soldiers, having been recruited from vocations such as fishing and farming.

For three months, the Canadian troops went through drills on how to seize the strategic stronghold from the Germans, who had held it for two years.

The British and the French had tried in vain to seize it over a two-year period, losing 140,000 troops in the process, before the Canadians arrived.

The Canadian troops suffered more than 10,000 casualties, including nearly 3,600  killed and just over 7,000 injured.

Barris will have photos and stories with him when he talks at the visitors centre at the Alberta legislature Thursday evening.

He'll also deliver a presentation at Festival Place in Sherwood Park Friday evening. He'll "try to give people a real sense of why it was Canada's moment," Barris said.