With the overwhelming success of the Canadian Corps Reunion in 1934, the preparations for a Vimy Pilgrimage were begun in earnest. By 1936, Walter Seymour Allward’s masterpiece atop Vimy Ridge was finally complete. Overseen by the Royal Canadian Legion, the Vimy Pilgrimage was an officially organized travel group, open to veterans and their immediate family, that would take them back to the battlefields of Europe on a three-and-a-half week whirlwind event.
The pilgrimage became a major social affair in Canada and many clamoured to be a part of the occasion. In charge of organizing the travel, the Thomas Cook & Son agency offered additional tour packages for Pilgrims who wished to see more of Europe once the official Pilgrimage was over. In addition to this, the French government stepped forward and offered an additional five days of touring France, completely free to those wishing to participate. Pilgrims were issued special Vimy Pilgrimage Canadian passports, colour-coded berets and buttons, a Vimy Pilgrimage medal, a “Pilgrim’s haversack” and vast amounts of tickets and certificates pertaining to their meals, boat, train, and bus passage.
In July 1936, over 6,200 Pilgrims departed the Montreal Harbour on Allan Line and Canadian Pacific steamships to the sounds of brass bands and cheering crowds, reminiscent of the war-time send-offs.
Each Monday, we will share a brief biography of a soldier of the First World War with a Vimy connection. Today we honour Henry Norwest.
Henry “Ducky” Norwest, Lance Corporal – Born in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, Henry was a Metis with French-Cree background. In his civilian life, he was a rancher, trapper and rodeo performer. He volunteered his service with the 50th Battalion during the First World War and was a praised sniper with 115 kills. He received the Military Medal with a bar during the Battle of Vimy Ridge for his service for the assault on the “Pimple”, one of only 838 Canadians to receive this honour. He was killed on August 18, 1918 during the Battle of Amiens by an enemy sniper.
On April 21, 2016, The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau spoke with New York University, and included remarks about the upcoming Vimy centennial in 2017.
At minute 34:08:
“…Canada had a history of stepping up. In the trenches of World War One, and the beaches of World War Two, Canadians fought like lions. In theatres far from their homes, that wasn’t directly of danger to Canada, Canadian young men, mostly, from communities across the country, stepped up and gave their lives for peace and for values in faraway conflicts. And that shaped the country.
Next year, as many of you know, we’re going to be celebrating our 150th anniversary since Confederation, which is a great thing. And many of you who aren’t Canadians, I encourage you to come up and visit Canada, because it’s a wonderful place and next year will be a wonderful time to be there. But at the same time, a lot of us have the reflection that it will also be the 100th anniversary next year, of the moment where for many, Canada actually became a nation in its own identity, at a place called Vimy Ridge. Where Canadian soldiers, for the first time in World War One, were brought together as a single group, with all the diversity (which was less then than it is now), but still significant diversity of English and French, indigenous and others, coming together and won that battle, through tremendous sacrifice but also tremendous valour, as Canadians. And that was a moment that was foundational for us.”
Watch the clip (skip to 34:08 to hear the above remarks):