#100DaysofVimy – March 26th, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance.

The Vimy Pilgrimage – Part II

Upon arriving in Europe, the Vimy Pilgrims boarded trains and proceeded to their respective cities, from which dozens of tour busses would shuttle pilgrims to and fro across Belgium and France. Each Pilgrim was able to request  a specific battlefield tour they wished to complete. This would ease the strain on the dozens of small towns that simply could not host 6,200 visitors at a single moment. In addition to this, Pilgrims could request special cemetery visits, enabling them to visit specific graves of loved ones. In total, 1,400 Pilgrims requested a special cemetery visit, totaling over 300 sites. In a remarkable indication of reverence, each of these 1,400 requests were fulfilled by the travel agencies.

The Vimy Pilgrimage resulted in great amounts of souvenirs made by the French for the occasion, including commemorative ashtrays and medallions.
Courtesy: The Canadian Centre for the Great War, 2017.


The Pilgrims were no doubt the toast of Europe at the time. Despite their small size, villages and hamlets liberated by the Canadians clamoured to host a ceremony and parade for the returning Pilgrims. In London, the Pilgrims paraded to Westminster Hall for a massive ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A garden party at Buckingham Palace was attended by King Edward VIII, who mingled and chatted with the Pilgrims.

After the official Pilgrimage ended, the 5,000 Pilgrims who accepted the French Invitation were treated to extravagant receptions in larger cities such as Rouen and Blois, where boisterous banquets often crescendoed with chorus rounds of “Tipperary” to the delight of the French crowds. At Paris, the Pilgrims paraded through cheering throngs to receptions at the Hotel de Ville and Hôtel des Invalides.

Menus, programs and invitations from assorted Vimy Pilgrimage receptions. The banquet in Rouen was attended by 8,000 people alone.
Courtesy: The Canadian Centre for the Great War, 2017.

#100DaysofVimy – March 25th, 2017

Each Saturday, we’ll share some reflections from our past student participants about the impact of their visit to Vimy Ridge and other sites of the First World War.

George Polanyi-Williamson

George Polanyi-Williamson ascends from the Maison Blanche tunnels, near Vimy Ridge.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation, 2014.

Since the end of the First World War, families have been making their way back to the battlefields to reconnect with lost loved ones. In 2014, George Polanyi-Williamson, a Beaverbrook Vimy Prize recipient, fulfilled his own Vimy Pilgrimage:

“I was able to connect with my own family’s past, retracing the steps of my great-grandfather, who fought at Vimy Ridge. Unexpectedly, when we were exploring a system of tunnels in a farmer’s field, I came across the emblem of my great-grandfather’s regiment etched into the wall of the cave. It was an incredible experience to stumble across your own history without even knowing it was there. This is just one of the things that made the Vimy trip unforgettable.

Just like George Polanyi-Williamson in 2014, families continue to make pilgrimages in an effort to connect with their lost loved ones. An estimated 60,000 from the United Kingdom did so in 1919 alone.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation, 2014.

Much like my great-grandfather, countless people gave their lives for our country, and made an unimaginable sacrifice for us. This trip helped me understand how quickly conflicts could erupt and change the course of the world. I will always remember what I saw in Europe, and how I felt when I learned about the events my ancestors had taken part in.”


#100DaysofVimy – March 24th, 2017

Each Friday, we will revisit an interesting poll result from the past few years. How do you compare to other Canadians? See our past poll results here: (http://www.vimyfoundation.ca/learn/poll-results/)

In last week’s poll question, we revealed that as of April 2015, 5% of Canadians were, or knew someone, planning to travel to France in 2017 for the centennial observance of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. This week we want to take a poll and see how the numbers compare. Do you, or someone you know, plan to travel to France this year for the centennial of the Battle of Vimy Ridge?

Recipients of the Vimy Pilgrimage Award attend the ceremonies at the base of the Vimy Memorial on April 9th, 2013.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation, 2013.

#100DaysofVimy – March 23rd, 2017

Each Thursday, we run a social media contest! Share with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and you can win a Vimy Prize Pack each week!

Contest for Thursday, March 23rd 2017:

Today we visited Sir Arthur Currie’s grave at Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal, placing a Vimy Pin & Medal beneath the Cross of Sacrifice.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation / Jordan Slump, 2017.


The 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge is just over two weeks away! Share a photograph of your Vimy Pin and show your support for this monumental occasion in Canada’s history.



The inscription bears Currie’s motto “They Served Til Death – Why Not We?”, which after 1934 served as a rallying cry for the Vimy Pilgrimage of 1936.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation / Jordan Slump, 2017.


Comment on our Facebook post, Instagram post, or tweet at us by 11:59pm PT on Thursday, March 23rd. Only one submission permitted per account per platform (i.e. if you have an account on both Facebook and Twitter you can enter twice; you cannot submit two entries through Facebook). One winner will be chosen at random from all eligible entries received during the time period on all platforms. The winner will be contacted on Friday March 24th, 2017! These contests are not sponsored by Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

#100DaysofVimy – March 22nd, 2017

Each Wednesday we will highlight the women of the First World War. Today:

Mary Riter Hamilton

Trenches On The Somme
“It seemed to me that something was in danger of being lost.” – Hamilton, 1926.
Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1988-180-38.

Mary Riter Hamilton was born in Teeswater, Ontario and raised in Clearwater, Manitoba. Prior to the First World War, Mary studied art and painted in Europe, gaining considerable attention.

At the outbreak of war, Mary was in Canada, where she continuously attempted to gain permission to return to Europe as an official war artist for Canada. Finally in 1919, Mary returned with the task of  producing paintings on behalf of the War Amputations of Canada, providing them for “The Gold Stripe”, a veterans’ magazine.

Mary Riter Hamilton with Richard Wallace in front of a bombed-out church, France, ca. 1919-1922.
Courtesy Ron Riter & Library and Archives Canada.

From 1919 – 1922, Mary produced approximately 300 paintings, enduring harsh weather, makeshift shelters (at times living in old dugouts) and poor food in a war-ravaged countryside. When she returned, Mary was physically and emotionally drained, unable to ever regain the intensity with which she had painted during those three years. In a final gesture, Mary refused to sell her paintings, instead donating them to the National Archives (now Library and Archives Canada) ensuring that they remained the possessions and memories of all Canadians.

Of her need to visit Europe and record the scenes she saw, Mary said:

I came out because I felt I must come, and if I did not come at once it would be too late, because the battlefields would be obliterated, and places watered with the best blood of Canada might be only names and memories. Of course the great facts of the war would remain, and I could add nothing but my pictures to the essential tragedy and meaning of it all, but it seemed to me that something was in danger of being lost.

I do not think I could re-live that time; and I know that anything of worth or anything of beauty which may be found in the pictures themselves reflects only dimly the visions which came then; the visions which came from the spirit of the men themselves.
(Letter from Mary Riter Hamilton to Dr. Arthur Doughty, Dominion Archivist, 27 July 1926).


#100DaysofVimy – March 21st, 2017

Each Tuesday, we will feature a place in Canada (or international!) with a Vimy Ridge connection. Today we highlight:

The Sailors’ Memorial Clock – Old Port of Montreal

In 1919, the cornerstone of the Sailors’ Memorial Clock was laid by future King Edward VIII, in the Old Port of Montreal. The clock tower is dedicated to the memory of Canadian sailors lost in the First World War. The Vimy Pilgrims departed Canada’s shores from harbour sheds at the foot of the tower in 1936. Visitors today can climb the tower’s 192 steps for a view of the city and harbour along the St. Lawrence River.

Just as many had done during the war, the Vimy Pilgrims of 1936 departed for France from the Montreal Harbour. Depicted here are Sheds 18 & 19 beneath the Sailors’ Memorial Clock in 1926.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of Interior / Library and Archives Canada / e008439076 / PA-044196.

#100DaysofVimy – March 20th, 2017

Each Monday, we will share a brief biography of a soldier of the First World War with a Vimy connection. Today we honour:

Ethelbert ‘Curley’ Christian

Curley’s cheerful disposition enabled him to become a champion of war amputees.
Courtesy: Private Collection.

Ethelbert ‘Curley’ Christian was born in the USA in the 1880’s (both the dates and location given vary). A man on the move, Curley traveled extensively in his early years while working. In 1915, Curley was in Selkirk, Manitoba when he enlisted with the 108th Battalion (Selkirk) of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Once overseas, Curley was transferred to the 78th Battalion (Winnipeg Grenadiers). During the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Curley was severely wounded, possibly coming under artillery fire, injured, and left buried in mud and debris for two days (according to his family). When he was finally uncovered, gangrene had set in his wounds, prompting doctors to amputate all four of his limbs. While in Euclid Hall in Toronto recovering, Curley met a nursing aid, Cleopatra McPherson; the two would marry in 1920 and raise a child.

The First World War gave rise to the manufacture of artificial limbs for the victims of war. In this note, Curley claims that “the two artificial legs forwarded me by the limb factory at the Dunnsville (sic) Military Hospital are not satisfactory, and I want the privilege of selecting the style and make of my legs.” (Editor’s Note: He possibly means the Haldimand War Memorial Hospital, in Dunnville, Ontario est. 1920).
Credit: Personnel Records of the First World War, Library and Archives Canada, Reference Number: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 1695 – 54. Item Number: 100301.

Forever a man on the move, Curley returned to Canada as its sole quadruple amputee of the First World War and championed initiatives for the care of war amputees and disabled. In 1936, he boarded the S.S. Montrose and returned to Europe with the Vimy Pilgrimage, where he met and chatted with King Edward VIII at the unveiling of the Vimy Memorial.

Ethelbert ‘Curely’ Christian passed away on March 15th, 1954, at approximately 70 years of age. He is buried in the Prospect Cemetery section of the Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto.

During the unveiling of the Vimy Memorial in 1936, Curley broke through the crowds and guards to introduce King Edward VIII to the blinded veterans.
Credit: Private Collection.
Nicknamed “Curley” by his mother for the curls in his hair, Ethelbert “Curley” Christian even signed his Attestation Papers as such.
Credit: Personnel Records of the First World War, Library and Archives Canada, Reference Number: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 1695 – 54. Item Number: 100301.

#100DaysofVimy – March 19th, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance.

The Vimy Pilgrimage – Part I

The application form for the Vimy Pilgrimage. Pilgrims were required to be the immediate family of someone who had served.
Courtesy: The Canadian Centre for the Great War, 2017.

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.

Assorted ephemera from the Vimy Pilgrimage, including boarding passes for the sea voyage and identification buttons. The letter envelope was officially “posted” from the crest of Vimy Ridge, at a temporary post office set up specifically for the occasion of the unveiling.
Courtesy: The Canadian Centre for the Great War, 2017.

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.

The packed decks of the Canadian Pacific Steamship, “Montrose”, littered with tickertape confeti, departing the port of Montreal for the Vimy Pilgrimage in June 1936. In the background is the Jacques Cartier Bridge.
Credit: Clifford M. Johnston / Library and Archives Canada / PA-056950.

#100DaysofVimy – March 18th, 2017

Each Saturday, we’ll share some reflections from our past student participants about the impact of their visit to Vimy Ridge and other sites of the First World War. 

2016 Beaverbrook Vimy Prize recipient Hannah Hardy identifies the name of a missing soldier she has researched on the Vimy Memorial.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation, 2016.

One of the educational advantages of the Vimy Foundation’s scholarship programs is the capturing of a tight-knit group’s reaction to the hardships of war and sacrifice. Hannah Hardy wrote about one of these moments after taking part in the 2016 Beaverbrook Vimy Prize scholarship:

“The moments I experienced at the Vimy Memorial can never be recreated; not only were my emotions strong, but the friends who stood around me who shared their own soldier’s stories had the largest impact. To see other youth like me, so invested in the history and moved to tears by hearing of their sacrifice, was incredible. I am overcome with the motivation to bring this new knowledge back to my community and to try and help them grasp a sense of the experience as told through my stories.”

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize recipients are asked to research the life of a specific Canadian soldier, whom they are then able to visit at a memorial or cemetery, sharing their story and delivering a tribute to their sacrifice.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation, 2016.

#100DaysofVimy – March 17th, 2017

Each Friday, we will revisit an interesting poll result from the past few years. How do you compare to other Canadians? See our past poll results here: (http://www.vimyfoundation.ca/learn/poll-results/)

Next Sunday, we’ll be posting about the Vimy Pilgrimage of 1936, when over 6,200 Canadians travelled back to Europe for the unveiling of the Vimy Memorial, in what was the largest mass pilgrimage of Canadians to ever return to the battlefields of Europe. In 2017, perhaps for the first time, the original Vimy Pilgrimage may finally be outdone. In fact, an April 2015 poll found that 5% of Canadians say that they or a member of their family is planning to travel to France in 2017 for the centennial observances of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the unveiling of the new Vimy Education Centre.

Source: IPSOS Reid Poll for The Vimy Foundation, April 2015.