April 9, 2017, marks 100th anniversary of Vimy
The 100th Anniversary - The Battle of
immortalized by Toronto sculptor Walter
By Douglas Phillips,
This April 9, we will be commemorating the 100th Anniversary
of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, an important milestone in Canadas
It is defined as the Birth of a Nation when Canadian troops
launched an attack on German forces at Vimy Ridge on Easter Monday,
April 9, 1917. Against all odds, Canadian troops won a decisive
battle that turned the tide of the First World War.
We will mark the occasion with special events at the Vimy
National War Memorial in France and the National War Memorial
in Ottawa. Many stories will be told about the battle and the
bravery on television and in newspapers. The Vimy Memorial will
be the centrepiece and the backdrop for speeches by politicians
from Canada and France.
While the focus will be on the 3,598 brave men who fell in
the battle and the 11,285 names of the missing engraved on the
base of the memorial who died in France, this article is about
the creation and the building of the Vimy Memorial; its history,
the person and the vision behind the design, why it was chosen,
the construction of the memorial, the creation of the memorial
park and how it survived the Second World War.
The Vimy vision
In 1921, while seated in a Toronto park, Walter Allward,
the sculptor, drew two pylons and joined them together with a
line. He called one pylon Canada and the other France. Two countries
joined together by sacrifice and thus the concept of Canadas
first National War Memorial was born.
Allward, like most Canadians, felt there was a deep obligation
to never forget the 66,000 Canadian soldiers and nurses who lost
their lives during World War I. The whole country was mourning
and many war memorials were erected with the names of local men
and women who, only a few years earlier, had marched down the
main street to the local train station, cheered on by family
Buried in distant cemeteries, the families of those lost
in the war could only look at the last photo, read the last letter
and stand before the local memorial and touch the name of a loved
one. Under public pressure, the government decided to build national
war memorials in Ottawa, France and Belgium to help a grieving
The construction of the Vimy Memorial was not an easy project.
In February 1919, the Battle Exploits Memorials Committee was
formed in Britain with a mandate to name the principle battles
and allocate a site to each country. Canada was awarded three
sites in Belgium and five in France. In September 1920, Parliament
enacted the Canadian Battlefields Memorials Commission to oversee
the design of the memorials. They organized a design competition,
open to all Canadian architects, designers, artists and sculptors.
The commission selected 17 of the 160 designs received for
consideration. Each finalist was asked to produce a plaster model
of their respective design. In October 1921, the commission selected
the designs of Walter Allward.
Frederick Clemeshas The Brooding Soldier
was selected as runner up. The commission decided to build two
distinctive memorials and six smaller identical memorials.
The government favoured Belgium for the Allward design, but
the former Canadian Corps Commander, Lt. General Arthur Currie,
argued in favour of Hill 145, the highest point on Vimy Ridge.
The Vimy Memorial would serve three purposes - to mark the site
of the battle, become the countrys premier memorial in
Europe and have the names of the 11,285 missing Canadians who
lost their lives in France engraved on the memorials base.
Before construction could begin, the land around Hill 145
was surveyed and the French government agreed to donate the land.
In February 1923, Parliament accepted Frances gift confirmed
in the Franco/Canada agreement.
The French Government grants, freely and for all time,
to the Government of Canada the free use of a parcel of 100 hectares
located on Vimy Ridge in the Department of Pas-de-Calais, the
boundaries of which are indicated on the plan annexed to the
'The Canadian Government
pledge themselves to lay out this land into a park and to erect
thereon a monument to the memory of the Canadian soldiers who
died on the field of honour in France during the war 1914-18.
The area is about 107 hectares which the government of
Canada has decided to utilize as follows - 10 hectares for the
monument and approaches and 97 hectares to be planted with trees.
Allward took charge of every aspect of the construction,
adjusting his design to fit into the hillside overlooking the
Douai Plain. The site had been pounded by artillery for three
weeks before the battle and the ground was pitted with dugouts,
mine craters, trenches and shell holes. Before construction could
start, a road had to be built from the Arras-Lens highway through
the park to the site and all the unexploded ammunition removed.
Under the supervision of Oscar Faber, a British civil engineer,
work was started on the foundation of reinforced concrete. Meanwhile,
Allward visited quarries across Europe and Britain looking for
a warm, white stone that could be carved from a single block
and would reflect the sunlight on the groups of figures.
After a year of searching, Allward found a warm limestone
in a quarry in present day Croatia, had it shipped to France
and the first stone arrived at the Vimy site in 1927. Renowned
Italian stone carver Luigi Rigamonti was hired to carve the principal
figure of Canada Bereft from a single flawless block
four metres high. This was delivered to the site in 1931.
Allward personally oversaw the exacting work of engraving
the names of the missing on the memorials walls using a
typeface designed by himself specifically for the purpose. As
construction difficulties, delays and costs increased, Allward
was asked to cut corners but he refused to lower the standards
of material. He was determined to create an enduring memorial.
After 14 years of continuous work, the memorial was unveiled
on July 26, 1936, by King Edward VIII. Attending the opening
were thousands of Canadian Vimy Ridge veterans who had made the
pilgrimage to look on as King Edward unveiled the flag covering
the figure of Canada Bereft and declared Canadas
National Memorial and Park open.
In 1925, the French Government started a reforestation program
to return the battle sites to their natural state and Canadian
maple trees were planted along the approach to the memorial.
Allwards inspiration was the feeling of a French medieval
cathedral and he said the idea came from a dream
When things were at their blackest in France, I dreamed
that I was in a great battlefield. I saw our men going by in
thousands and being mowed down by the sickles of death
Suffering beyond endurance at the sight, I turned my eyes and
found myself looking down on an avenue of poplars. Suddenly through
the avenue I saw thousands marching to the aid of our armies.
They were the dead. They rose in masses, filed silently by and
entered the fight to aid the living. So vivid was this impression,
that when I awoke it stayed with me for months. Without the dead
we were helpless. So I have tried to show this in this monument
to Canadas fallen, what we owed them and will forever owe
Arthur Meighen, the
ninth prime minister of Canada, said: The site of the Vimy
Monument is beyond comparison, of the various battlefields of
the war, it is the most closely associated in the hearts of the
Canadian people with all that the war involved in story and in
The memorial figures speak about hope for the future and
the impact of wars. It is an enduring image of the First World
War and the cost of life. As a nation, we shall always be indebted
to Walter Allward, who gave many years of his middle age life
to the Vimy Ridge Memorial and to his many other public monuments
that greatly add to our identity as Canadians, our history and
Inscribed on the base in English and French:
To the valour of their countrymen in the Great War and
in memory of their sixty thousand dead this monument is raised
by the people of Canada."
Biography of Walter Seymour Allward, RCA
Born in Toronto on November18, 1875, educated in local schools.
At the age of 14, he assisted his carpenter father. He first
worked as an apprenticed draftsman before working at the Don
Valley Brick Works, modelling architectural ornaments and this
early training prepared him for his lifelong career as a monumental
At age 19, he received his first commission, the figure of
Peace which is located on the grounds of Queens Park.
Other commissions followed with the South African War Memorial
on University Avenue. Perhaps the design of the Bell Telephone
Memorial Gardens in Brantford was a precursor for the Vimy Ridge
Allward has been described as probably Canadas
most important monumental sculptor in the first third of the
20th century. He died on April 24, 1955, and is buried
with a simple headstone in Saint Johns Church Cemetery
in York Mills, north Toronto. Find more information on his life
and works at wikipedia.org
Vimy Ridge Memorial during War World 2
France surrendered to Germany on June 24, 1940. With the
evacuation of Dunkirk by the Allied Armies, the fate of the memorial
became a focus of concern in the Canadian press over reports
that Nazi bombers, during the Battle of Arras in May 1940, had
destroyed the memorial.
The June 4 headlines of the Globe and Mail read Vimy
Memorial Bombed Sculptor Sad and Bitter. The country was
outraged; Vimy veterans were quoted as Crying for revenge
for our fallen comrades. This was all fake news
and to prove the news false the German government issued a famous
photo of Adolf Hitler standing under the Vimy Memorial on June
Further proof was obtained that the memorial was standing
when Royal Canadian Air Force fighter pilots flew over it in
1942, and throughout the war until the Welsh Guards liberated
Arras on the September 1, 1944, and Vimy Ridge was back in Allied
hands. On September 11, Lt.General Crerar, Commander of the First
Canadian Army, landed on Vimy Park and reported there had been
minimal damage. In April 1945, a military ceremony was held and
George Stubbs, the Vimy caretaker, returned from German internment
to reopen the park to visitors.
Canadian Battlefield Memorials Restoration Project
Due to weather conditions over the years, the memorials
base had begun to deteriorate, so in 2004 restoration work began.
With new stone shipped from Croatia, the faded names were carefully
matched. On completion of the work, the park was reopened by
Queen Elizabeth II.
Allwards masterpiece, the Vimy Ridge Memorial, would
1 - Vimy National War Memorial, created by sculptor Walter
Allward to Canadas fallen, Stuart Phillips photo
2 - Walter Allward, Wikipedia Commons
3 - Canadian Battle Fields Memorials Commission competition
models c1920, Wikipedia Commons
4 - The Crest of Vimy Ridge oil painting 1918 by Canadian
war artist Gyrth Russell (1892-1970), Canadian War Museum