Virtually every Canadian prime minister has appealed to the unifying power of Vimy Ridge over the past century, and Justin Trudeau did the same Sunday on the 100th anniversary of the historic First World War battle.
Trudeau was at the site in France surrounded by dignitaries like French President Francoise Hollande and and Britain’s Prince Charles.
Trudeau proclaimed Vimy to be a symbol of a nation committed to peace.
“As I see the faces gathered here — veterans, soldiers, caregivers, so many young people — I can’t help but feel a torch is being passed,” Trudeau said in his speech. “One hundred years later, we must say this, together. And we must believe it: Never again.”
Before the prime minister spoke, Canadian Governor General David Johnston pointed to the majestic Vimy monument, unveiled between world wars in 1937, and declared it a symbol of what the battle accomplished a century ago.
“Those spires stand for peace and for freedom,” Johnston said. “They stand for justice and hope. And they remind us that one cannot exist without the other.”
On Apr. 9, 1917 Canadians wrested a hill from German hands after several unsuccessful attempts by British forces. That victory became a symbol of nationhood for a country that would celebrate 50 years of self-government that coming July.
The centennial has stimulated great interest in Canada, and about 25,000 Canadians traveled to the Vimy memorial this week to honor the memory of the men who lived to win a great victory that day or died in the process — in a war that divided Canada at the time along linguistic lines.
Angry opposition in the province of Quebec to the First World War and the military conscription that eventually came with it have receded into memory, just as Vimy Ridge has emerged as what most historians consider the seminal event of Canadian nationhood.
The Vimy monument is located in the French city of Arras and its mayor, Frederic Leturque, took time to remember the other countries who fought under the banner of the British Empire and contributed to the battle: Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
But he reserved a poignant salute for the Canadians, whose bravery and perseverance, he said, provided a turning point for the city and for France itself.