Reception for the In-Canada Delegation of the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge
Rideau Hall, Thursday, April 6, 2017
At the centre of the Vimy Monument in France, beneath the towering twin pylons that reach into the sky above, stands the figure of a weeping woman.
She is carved from a single, 30-tonne block of limestone—the largest in the monument.
She is called Canada Bereft, but she is perhaps better known to us as “Mother Canada.”
She represents the loss of her sons, the pity of war, the terrible sacrifices Canadians made on the home front.
Tonight, my wife, Sharon, and I will have the honour of travelling to France to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
Meanwhile, all of you will mark this solemn occasion here on the home front.
It’s so important that you do.
Today, there are no remaining veterans of Vimy, or of the First World War.
That means one thing above all:
It’s up to us to remember what happened in the war and to honour our veterans.
This is our solemn duty.
It’s important to commemorate Vimy here at home as well as in France.
As “Mother Canada” reminds us, the war was fought and felt on both sides of the Atlantic.
Vimy marked an important moment in Canada’s evolution. I’m so grateful for your remembrance, and for your presence here at Rideau Hall today.
Like much of Canada, Rideau Hall also echoes with the history of Vimy Ridge.
From 1921 to 1926, Lord Byng lived and worked here as Canada’s 12th governor general. His official portrait on display here in the Tent Room shows him in military dress.
Byng was of course commander of the Canadian Corps at Vimy. Following the war, he took as his title Baron Byng of Vimy.
As historian Tim Cook recounts in his new history of Vimy Ridge:
“Old soldiers visited [Byng] at Rideau Hall, and he went out of his way to speak of the memory of the Canadian Corps wherever he went. He was the living embodiment of what had been accomplished by the Canadians under his command on the Western Front.”
During his travels across Canada as governor general, Byng was greeted enthusiastically by the men he had led.
The warmth that existed between Byng and the troops points to the fact that a greater-than-usual degree of trust was placed in rank-and-file soldiers at Vimy than in other battles.
For example, Cook points out that 40 000 maps were handed out to privates so they would know the terrain they were to take in detail.
Byng’s headquarters shared information to a greater extent than other British formations. It was one of a number of Canadian innovations in planning and execution that led to victory on the battlefield.
It also reflected something of the egalitarian nature of Canada. In this way, success at Vimy had its roots in our unique society.
Today, a century later, let us remember such details in commemorating the battle, and let us reflect on its lessons.
We owe it to those soldiers, and to their families and loved ones, to learn about their experiences of the war.
They fought and died and sacrificed for us in ways that are almost unimaginable. As a tribute to them, we will be planting two oak trees on the grounds of Rideau Hall. They are descended from the Vimy oaks destroyed on the battlefield a hundred years ago.
Thank you for honouring those who served, and for being part of remembrance ceremonies here at home. As commander-in-chief of Canada and as a Canadian, I am truly grateful.