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April 17, 2018

VIDEO: Students Remember Vimy at Encounters with Canada

It was the start of a very special week of history and remembrance. Dressed in their bright red sweaters, 127 students from every province and territory headed to Ottawa’s War Memorial for a ceremony commemorating the 101th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy. For these young Canadians, aged 14 to 17, this week was one they will never forget. Organized by Encounters with Canada, in partnership with the Vimy Foundation, the theme was Vimy: Canada’s Coming of Age.

Until now, I’ve never been off of Baffin Island. This was an opportunity to learn more about Canadian history and meet new friends. This experience has really touched my heart.
- Neevee Naki Kilabuk, Iqaluit, Nunavut

On April 9, 1917, Canadian soldiers took the famous ridge in Northern France, concluding a long and bloody chapter of the First World War. It was also an important period in history, which saw Canada forge its identity – a time to remember for all Canadians.

During their week in Ottawa, Encounters’ students visited the War Museum, explored war-time archives, met with war veterans, and toured Parliament and historical landmarks. They learned about the roles of women and indigenous people during the war, discovered the living conditions of soldiers not much older than themselves at the time, and witnessed the essential role Canada has played in building peace throughout the 20th century.

I think they’re going to understand their country a little bit more. This is a diverse but unified country, and a common purpose that we all have is peace. With this week about the Battle of Vimy, focusing on war, the goal is peace in the end. And Canada, as a peacekeeping nation, set itself apart. I think students will see that.
- Edgar Veldman, Teacher-monitor, Terrace, BC

Vimy participants also engaged in art workshops around the themes of war, peace and remembrance. And they were able to voice their own perspectives and feelings through such media as stop-motion animation, felt work and slam poetry.

What’s one of the most famous poems of all time? In Flanders Fields. To me, poetry fits perfectly into the theme of this week because the students are speaking with veterans, going to museums. They’re taking in a lot of very, very powerful and emotional stimuli; and poetry is perfect for taking time to reflect.
- Nathanael Larochette, slam artist and workshop leader, Ottawa, ON

Another exciting opportunity was to spend an afternoon with World War II veteran Peter Craske, Korean War veteran Walter Conrad, and Cold War and peacekeeping Indigenous veteran Bob Crane, as well as active members of the Forces Lt.-Col. Telah Morrison, Major Jean-Marc Mercier and Lt. Nathalie Pagé. Discussions ranged from personal experiences, the role of the military throughout Canadian history, and how Canadians are still very much respected in Europe, because of their role in both World Wars:

The kids still put flowers on the graves of Canadian soldiers, and at Christmas they put candles on every grave. One of the most moving moments of my life was when I went to Holland a few years ago. A woman brought up a little boy to me, and asked me to shake his hand. And she said “I want my son to die knowing he shook the hand of one of the people who liberated us.”
- WWII veteran Peter Craske

Find out more about EWC's VIMY: Canada's coming of age and other theme weeks.