A Visit To Vimy Ridge

September 12, 2017.  After a few hectic days when there was no time to do any writing as we were on the go from early morning until quite late in the evening, we now are settled for a few days in a quiet cottage in a forested area, and hopefully can catch up with all of the memorable days we’ve just experienced.

The most anticipated stop on our memorial trail of honouring the men listed on the Borden-Carleton Cenotaph was Vimy Ridge.  Two WW1 soldiers are listed on the Vimy Memorial, John Lymon WOOD and Patrick Raymond ARSENAULT.

Our hotel was in Arras, and Vimy Ridge was a 20 minute drive from there.  Just before the turn-off to Vimy Ridge we passed through the town of Thélus.  There is one stop light in town.  To the left are signs directing you to cemeteries and memorials.  To the right are signs directing you to more memorials.

Right by the stop light is the Canadian Artillery Memorial, built to remember the sacrifice of Canadians from Artillery battalions who died in the battle for Vimy Ridge and the surrounding area.

CIMG8309 Sep 5 2017 Cdn Artillery Memorial in Thelus with sign posts

The Canadian Artillery Memorial in Thélus was built during WW1 by the Canadian Corps. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

It’s daunting to see how many reminders of war there are in France.  Everywhere you go, you see memorials and cemeteries – both civilian and military.  It’s a grim reminder of how many people lost their lives.  It’s impossible to ignore or forget.  And it’s a very big reminder of how many countries came to help in the Allied cause during World War I.  It truly became an international war.  Every one of them has at least one memorial and the war cemeteries are filled with Allied and German lives lost.

CIMG8270 Sep 2017 Pieter at entrance to Vimy Memorial Park

Pieter at the entrance to Vimy Ridge in France. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The turn-off to the Vimy Ridge memorial and visitors centre is a tree-lined road, with jogging and walking paths, well used by citizens of the area.  It’s a public road that goes to the nearby villages of Givenchy and Vimy.

We were very lucky to have been given a guided tour of the Vimy Ridge Visitors Centre, which opened in April 2017, by site manager Johanne Gagné.

CIMG8275 Sep 5 2017 Pieter with site manager Johanne Gagne

Pieter with Johanne Gagné, Senior Manager, European Operations at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, who gave us a guided tour. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Among the many exhibits in the Visitors Centre is one that replicates the graffiti found in the tunnels of Vimy Ridge.  Using 3-D technology, exact replicas of the graffiti have been made, and researchers have tried, where possible, to provide a face and story to the men who made the graffiti.

Ms. Gagné noted that this graffiti display will be on tour in various places in Canada after leaving Vimy Ridge.  If it comes to your area, you won’t want to miss it!

We certainly had the right person to give us a tour, as Ms. Gagné worked for two years in Canada in developing the visitors centre before coming to France for two years as part of an interchange agreement with Parks Canada.  Hailing from Coteau-du-Lac, Quebec, she has a background in museology, exhibit design, and developing visitors programming.  Our interest was certainly caught, and this was from one exhibit only.

IMG_20170905_093513986 Sep 5 2017 Graffiti at Vimy Ridge by Kines & Holmes

Graffiti replicas of the 15th Battalion and a photo and short bio of two names inscribed below the insignia, that of Alvin Kines and Daniel Holmes. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

The Visitors Centre has many interactive displays, in three languages (English, French, German), and one of the displays is very personal.  It tells the story of World War I from the perspectives of a young girl, a soldier, a nurse, etc, and all the stories are based on letters and diaries of real life people.

We were fascinated by a wall of patriotic signs, urging support for the war.

CIMG8277 Sep 5 2017 Vimy Ridge Visitors Centre Pieter by patriotic signs

Pieter by one of the displays of patriotic signs. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

An interactive display explained the troop movements during the Battle of Vimy Ridge on April 8, 1917.  Another interactive display gave a tour of the tunnels below Vimy Ridge. This was a marvellous solution to see the tunnels, especially if you were not physically capable of entering the tunnels yourself.

CIMG8283 Sep 5 2017 Daria by interactive displays in Vimy Ridge Visitors Centre

Daria by the interactive display of the Vimy Ridge tunnels. Behind are the displays of stories of WW1 by individuals. (Photo credit: Johanne Gagné)

We asked Ms. Gagné her perspective of the Vimy Ridge Visitors Centre and Memorial.  “Most of the time, people come and say that they came to honour the sacrifices made.  I asked myself, what does it mean to me?  Why have I spent three years on this project?  I’m giving the soldiers a voice.  I hope that through the exhibits, that we can show the public how the soldiers lived, what they saw, what they did, and close the loop by telling their stories.”  The exhibits certainly do that.  They are interesting and well done.

The tour of the Visitors Centre over, it was time to see the rest of Vimy Ridge.  On Pieter’s bucket list was a tour of the tunnels, a wish that was granted, and discussed in the next blog.  While he and Ms. Gagné prepared themselves for the tunnels, I took a look at the tunnels from the comfort and safety of the Visitors Centre.

Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at dariadv@yahoo.ca or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

 

 

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