Three Aprils ago, thousands of high school students from Canada converged on a sloping field to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, where a Canadian expeditionary force defeated a German defensive line in northeast France in World War I. It was an outstanding victory for allied forces fighting Germany and remains to this day a watershed event showcasing Canadian spirit and sacrifice.
I was an EF Tour Director for a group from Georgian Bay in Ontario going to Vimy. On April 9, we filed onto the battlefield and took our place in front of the Vimy Memorial, a stone structure that is at once hulking and soaring, with the best capturing of sadness that I’ve ever seen in a towering outdoor statue (it’s Mother Canada, mourning her lost countrymen).
The marquee speakers were French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and, most impressively, Queen Elizabeth II, seen here arriving at the memorial. She delivered her remarks in flawless French was well as in English, with a commanding presence befitting her nominal role as Head of the Armed Forces.
I felt privileged to be there, for I was surely one of very few Americans present. Perhaps what fascinated me most was a moment I was caught off-guard. I’d spent days with these kids from Ontario—fellow North Americans with whom we Americans share so much culturally—and I was lulled into a easy familiarity with everything about them. But suddenly, they—together with all of the other thousands of students in that field—burst into a rendition of “O Canada,” which I had actually never heard in its entirety. It was a cultural experience of the first order.
In an exclusive partnership with the Vimy Foundation, EF Educational Tours will run Vimy Ridge tours to commemorate the 95th anniversary of Vimy Ridge. These tours are an opportunity for students and teachers to immerse themselves in one of the most important moments of Canada’s history.
Photo: Foto43 via Flickr (CC license)