Opening of the Visitor Education Centre at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial
Vimy, France, Saturday, April 8, 2017
One hundred years ago tomorrow, the clock struck zero hour and some 15 000 Canadian infantrymen went “over the top” in the first wave of attack.
It was the moment of truth, but the attack on Vimy Ridge was anything but spontaneous.
Months of planning and training went into the assault. The overwhelmingly loud and powerful artillery barrage was carefully timed. New infantry tactics gave soldiers at the sharp end a better chance of victory.
These efforts were informed by detailed intelligence reports; aerial surveillance; careful calibration of weaponry and tactics; and triangulation, to name just a few elements of preparation.
There were also many social innovations: maps for the soldiers; less rigid hierarchy within the ranks; freedom to adjust tactics; greater trust between soldiers and those in command.
I emphasize these details to share a key lesson of the battle: victory at Vimy Ridge was achieved in part through learning.
There were of course countless acts of extraordinary bravery and heroism. In fact, four Canadian soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross—the highest military decoration within the British Empire—for their courage.
But the Ridge would never have been taken were it not for those thousands of Canadians who set their mind to the difficult task. In the hours before the battle, one can imagine their anxiety, their worry, and their determination. They had prepared well for the battle, but its execution took tremendous courage. To leave the trenches – to face the storm of shells and a resolute enemy – those Canadians had to endure the unimaginable. One has a difficult time putting into words their deeds and determination.
And that’s what this new visitor education centre is all about: remembering and learning, and trying to understand the past to better inform our present and guide us towards our future.
The Canadian National Vimy Memorial is so important to our country that it was designated a national historic site. The Battle of Vimy Ridge marked a significant stage in Canada’s evolution.
Now, to inform the many thousands of people who visit this site each year, we have this impressive visitor’s centre.
It will tell this important story to all Canadians, but also to hundreds of thousands of visitors from other nations. To no small degree, the Vimy monument, this historical landscape still scarred by the shells of 100 years ago, and now this education centre represents Canada to the world.
I am particularly pleased to see so many young people here today. Tomorrow, thousands of students from across Canada will be here.
This is so important.
As you know, there are no remaining veterans of the First World War.
That means it’s up to us to remember what happened to and honour the veterans of Vimy Ridge. This is our solemn duty.
This centre is the result of a great deal of hard work, planning and dedication. Many of you who are here today were closely involved.
What a great example of collaboration among Canadians and the people of France, and thus a wonderful tribute to Vimy.
It is the result of the leadership and vision of the Vimy Foundation and of Veterans Affairs Canada, which will operate this centre.
It is the result of the generosity of Canadians and of the people of France.
I wish to acknowledge the support of France as represented by Minister Todeschini today.
Let me also acknowledge Les Amis du Monument canadien de Vimy, for their tireless efforts to promote this memorial.
Because of this centre, future generations of pilgrims to Vimy will learn what happened here and why.
Through learning, we can better appreciate the sacrifice and bravery of those soldiers, and be inspired to build more just and peaceful societies for the future.