In April 1917, Canadian troops were ordered to launch an offensive against the German armed forces. The goal was to capture Vimy Ridge, a 4.3-mile strip of land that provided the Germans with a strategic view of the Allied lines. Many Allied attempts to seize Vimy Ridge had already failed.
Canadian soldiers spent weeks training for the assault. On April 12, 1917, the fourth day of fighting, they seized the ridge. This victory was significant for Allied forces but came at tremendous cost. More than 10,000 Canadian soldiers died or were wounded.
For Canada, this was more than a military victory. Canada had entered World War I at the command of the British but, sacrificing so many soldiers and having achieved a stunning victory, the battle helped the country emerge newly assertive and ready to stake its claim on the world stage.
In 1922, as a measure of its gratitude, the French government ceded Vimy Ridge and the surrounding land to Canada. The site now stands as a memorial to the 66,000 Canadians who died in France and Belgium during the war. The 11,285 Canadian soldiers killed in France in World War I who have no known graves, each has their name engraved on the memorial.
The memorial was designed by Canadian sculptor Walter Seymour Allward and took 11 years to build. In addition to the monument, the memorial site preserves many of the battlefield features, including trenches, craters, tunnels, and the “no man’s land” territory between German and Canadian battle lines.
Visitors to the Canadian National Vimy Ridge memorial will find the site in northern France staffed with Canadians. They will also find Canadian flags flown throughout the surrounding towns that continue to honor the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers.
Know Before You Go
The Canadian National Vimy Memorial and its visitor center is open almost every day of the year. There is also a small military history research center on site that can be accessed with more restrictive hours.