Vimy Pilgrimage Award Blog – 6 April 2019

This morning, our VPA 2019 recipients visited the Mons Memorial Museum where they received a tour from the museum’s curator Mr. Rousman. Afterwards, they visited St Symphorien Cemetery where George Lawrence Price, believed to be the last Canadian soldier killed during the First World War, is buried. In the afternoon, the students travelled to France and visited Bourlon Wood Canadian Memorial and the South African Memorial Delville Wood. Read the students’ posts about their experiences. (Please note: participants will blog in their language of preference).

Le moment qui m’a le plus marquée aujourd’hui est la visite du cimetière de Delsaux Farm, où Keneisha a présenté Private Vincent Carvery au groupe devant sa tombe. Ce soldat noir a vaillamment combattu pour l’armée canadienne durant la Première Guerre mondiale. Devant sa pierre tombale, Keneisha a lu sa biographie, puis lui a récité un poème qu’elle avait composé. Le contexte social durant lequel Private Carvery s’est engagé était horrible et sa volonté de servir un pays qui, pourtant, le rejetait m’ont tous deux touchée. Quel bel hommage lui a-t-elle fait! Voici une des strophes qui m’ont touchée le plus.

« Private Vincent Carvery
Planted down
When they pulled you up
Stood tall
When they cut you short
So damn Black
When they told you it’s a White man’s war »

Depuis le début du programme, j’ai été impressionnée par la connexion que tous ont créée avec les soldats qu’ils honorent. Je crois que ce qui a rendu la présentation de Keneisha si spéciale, c’est la proximité qu’elle semblait avoir avec Private Carvery. Il m’a semblé inconcevable qu’un soldat noir puisse se voir refuser d’entrer dans l’armée seulement à cause de sa couleur de peau. J’ai alors compris que la guerre à l’époque n’était pas seulement entre les tranchées sur les champs de bataille d’Europe, mais aussi entre les membres d’une même nation. Cela rendait certainement les atrocités de la Grande Guerre encore plus intenses pour certains groupes de personnes, faisant face à la fois aux bombes et à la discrimination de leurs pairs.

Rosalie Gendron, Lévis QC


The land and geography of the Ypres Salient had the most impact on me. Although the Second Battle of Ypres and the Battle of Passchendaele took place two years apart, they were fought on nearly the same land. The Ypres Salient was a small area of land controlled by the Allies surrounded on three sides by the Germans lines. The German occupation of the hills gave them a strategic advantage: they were able to see any Allied advance and could shoot into their reserve lines.

When you walk on the Ypres Salient, you must remember that this land was fought on for four years. During these four years, there was a Christmas Truce, the use of chlorine gas for the first time, the Allied bombing of Hill 60 and the Caterpillar and the suffering in the mud at the Battle of Passchendaele. Over the years, the Ypres Salient has slowly recovered from the war. Now, it is rich farmland with few scars of battle. This land that we were walking on was once a desolate, mud covered wasteland of fighting. Every step I took, I knew that I might have been standing where a soldier once took his last breath. I was walking upright without fear, something that would have been impossible during the First World War.

Katie Clyburne, Halifax NS


Standing in the St Symphorien Cemetery, I felt a presence that wasn’t like any other cemeteries we previously visited. A happy medium- both sides of the war lay peacefully in close proximity to one another. Standing in one row of headstones, I saw one commonwealth soldier who is believed to be the first to die in the First World War on one side of me and one of the last commonwealth soldiers killed on the other. In another section, I stood only a few feet away from both German and commonwealth soldiers. Both laid next to one another, not divided but rather united. As we walked around in complete silence, there was a calmness that was present. My surroundings were beautiful. The twisted paths gave an additional level of uniqueness. The silence made everything seem peaceful as I could hear the birds chirping and the wind was lightly blowing as if to make sure I didn’t overheat. It’s hard to imagine that over one hundred years ago, these two groups were fighting one another and now, they lay in peace next to eachother. As I sat in the cemetery completely quiet, I knew I would never find anything else like this.

Cassandra Gillen, Point-Claire QC


Vimy Pilgrimage Award Blog – 5 April 2019

Still in the Ypres region, the 2019 VPA group toured the Ypres Salient with our wonderful guide Roger. Sights included Christmas Truce Memorial, Hill 60 and the Caterpillar, Tyne Cot Cemetery, St. Julien Canadian Memorial, and Langemark German Cemetery. In the evening, the students participated in the Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate as Gillian, Navjot, and Joon laid a wreath to commemorate the fallen. (Please note: participants will blog in their language of preference).


The poem “In Flanders Fields” is known by people from all over the world. Maybe it’s because of the descriptive language used to describe the horrid sights of the war. However, regardless of the reason behind the popularity of this poem, the one thing we can identify for certain are the words in the poem remain the same.  The perspective we have on what the words mean and signify, however, differ. At the Menin Gate ceremony tonight, the song “In Flanders Fields” was sung by a choir. I noticed that it was performed differently by this group of students than the choir of which I am a member of. This evoked a thought that led me to form an interesting analogy. Even though the words of the song remain the same, there are so many different ways in which they can be sung. Just as the soldiers in war, the different groups, whether they be the allies or central powers, had contrasting experiences due to their location and varying perspectives. Yet, they were all fighting for similar things: their families and countries. Just as the words of this well-known poem, the reason these people sacrificed their lives by participating in the war effort is quite the same. When talking about history, the opposing armies are often described as fighting against one another, when in reality they were fighting for a common goal. This was a great epiphany for me which is one of the reasons the ceremony at Menin Gate was so important to me.

Stephanie Budden, Stephenville NL


For me, the most moving and impactful experience I have had exploring Belgium would probably be visiting the German war cemetery Langemark. This had a powerful impact on me as it showed that the Belgians found a good balance between respect and condemnation. The Belgians were able to lease their land to the Germans so that the Germans can properly bury their casualties. While that respect was shown, they also tried to condemn the Germans actions by only letting the Germans have a modest location for their burials.

Another vital take-away I got from visiting this cemetery was how most of the soldiers were just like me, with the exception of the year they were born and the circumstances in which they were born into. I very well could have been of German descent and could have fought in the great war. Many of these soldiers were close to the same age as me, which really opened my eyes to some of the emotions these soldiers were faced with. I know if it were me, I would feel very uncertain and scared, not knowing if I would see tomorrows sunset.

Declan Sander, Lethbridge AB     


As I marvelled at the beauty of the red and white flowers of the wreath I was carrying, the buglers played familiar notes. This evening, at the Menin Gate, the Last Post warmed the hearts of many. Myself and two others were given the opportunity to lay a wreath on behalf of the Vimy Foundation. The entire ceremony was amazing. A choir sang as we laid our wreath alongside other wreaths from other countries and educational groups. It was a great honour and it allowed me to show my respect to three soldiers from my community who are commemorated on the Menin Gate. One soldier in particular, Private Augustine John Fehrenbach, drew many emotions. A family from my home town lost their great uncle in the First World War and never had the opportunity to visit his name. Knowing how happy and grateful the family would be if I returned with a rubbing of his name, built my hopes. I knew the odds of being able to reach his name were slim. However, I was very pleased that I was able to reach his name. Upon finding Private Fehrenbach on the wall, I was so overcome with emotions of all sort that I began to cry. I was speechless and even though I had shared no personal connection with this soldier, I was honoured to take a rubbing of his name and I am very excited to return my rubbing to his family for them to cherish. Tonight, I was very proud to lay a wreath on behalf of the Vimy Foundation, Canada, and for Private Fehrenbach.

Gillian Huppee, Foam Lake SK


On our first day of this program, our chaperone, Sara, asked us to think of one word that we would use to describe the First World War. I chose “meaningful” because the war has changed our world in so many ways. Today, we saw the Christmas Truce Memorial. One of the ways this was meaningful was because it showed that these men were not just people who fought in the war, they were human beings that had families and loved ones back home. This also showed that the war wasn’t always about killing and winning. When our tour guide, Roger, was talking to us about this site, he said that the soldiers’ trenches were so close to each other that they could hear what the other men were saying to each other. The men also tried to make the Christmas Truce happen by missing their shots of their guns or telling the other soldiers that someone would be coming and where to go for safety. This site was very meaningful today to me because I realized how much of the war I didn’t know. This is why I chose the word meaningful for our first day of the program and I will see this time and time again.

Andrew Poirier, York (Hamlet of) ON

Vimy Pilgrimage Award Blog – 4 April 2019

Today in Belgium, our VPA 2019 recipients visited John McCrae’s Dressing Station where Emma and Theo read the well-known poem In Flanders Fields. Later, they toured the Passchendaele memorial and surrounding cemeteries. In the afternoon, they visited the In Flanders Fields Museum, located in the Cloth Hall, and climbed the 231 steps of the Cloth Tower to see the magnificent views across the Ypres region. (Please note: participants will blog in their language of preference).

Today was the first day on the program that we got the chance to set foot in cemeteries and on battlegrounds of the First World War. The emotions that I experienced while visiting these sites was something I never could have prepared for, and the atmosphere at each site was indescribable.  It was a beautiful sunny day and each location we visited had birds chirping which I thought really contributed to the environment in each site.

We visited the Maple Copse Cemetery where my great great uncle Bud is known to be buried. His grave was in a beautiful location that was especially moving as it was very secluded and felt very peaceful. We walked down a pathway before the cemetery could finally be seen, and the site had a very nice archway that we walked under to get to the graveyard.  Shortly before his death, my uncle Bud had written home asking his mother for a warm pair of knit socks- but he never lived to receive them.  I brought a pair of socks that I knit in memory of my Uncle Bud, and though it was a century too late- I was very honoured to be able to lay these socks at his grave.

Faith Emiry, Massey ON


Le premier cimetière où nous sommes allés était au poste de secours de John McCrae. Nous étions donc entourés d’anciens cimetières et de champs de bataille. Aujourd’hui, il n’y a que des fermes et des maisons, il n’y avait presqu’aucun bruit, seulement le bruit du chant des oiseaux et des automobiles. Tout était vraiment beau et paisible. Le soleil était haut et éclairait chaque tombe, il en avait beaucoup, comme s’il voulait les réchauffer. Je me rappelais des images de guerre et comment la guerre avait l’air d’être le contraire de beau et paisible. C’était impossible pour moi d’imaginer que la paix et le silence de cette petite place étaient autrefois dérangés. Les images de la guerre sont en noirs et blancs, mais ce cimetière était réel et en couleur, et c’était très difficile d’imaginer la guerre en couleur, et de réaliser qu’à l’endroit même où je lisais Au champ d’honneur, plusieurs personnes étaient mortes. Tout ce qui avait autour était des fermes et des maisons. Comme si la vie après la guerre et les générations suivantes avaient reconstruit autour de la guerre. Et c’est une des choses qui m’a surprise le plus; à quel point les traces de la guerre sont encore très fraîches en Belgique. Lorsque nous traversions en autobus les villes, ce n’était pas rare de voir des cimetières entre deux maisons ou entre deux fermes. J’ai trouvé ça vraiment intéressant, mais aussi plutôt intriguant. Ça m’a guidé à une question sur le roulement de vie des Belges. Comment font-ils pour ne pas succomber à la pression de l’éternelle dette de la Première Guerre mondiale, sans toutefois tomber dans l’ignorance du Souvenir?

Emma Roy, Ste-Sophie Québec


Today was a very moving and emotional first day. We visited many historic sites, including the Menin Gate. The Menin Gate includes the names of over 54 000 soldiers who died before August 16, 1917 and who have no known grave. This commemorative structure included so many names and is so vast that many within our group, including myself, became emotional. After having a group discussion, we then all broke up into smaller groups to discuss the significance of Menin Gate, as well as our thoughts on the day so far. This discussion was insightful and meaningful to me. The chaperon led the group discussion and, at one point, I was able to reflect on the significance of viewing historical sites in Belgium and how that is more effective and impactful than just reading about it. I began to reflect on the people of Belgium and how ingrained the First World War is in their culture. Truly, from someone walking on the street to a tourist guide in a museum, everyone in Belgium is informed of the First World War. Being immersed in this kind of environment makes learning and remembering the war much more meaningful. I cannot wait to see what the rest of this program has in store!

David Pugh, Brantford Ontario


Vimy Pilgrimage Award Blog – 3 April 2019

This morning, our VPA 2019 recipients arrived in Brussels and visited the Atonium. Later, they travelled to Messines on the Ypres Salient. After getting settled in, the recipients were introduced to the program and participated in some ice-breaker activities. Read more about what they are most looking forward to during the program.

(Please note: participants will blog in their mother tongue.)  



J’ai extrêmement hâte à la visite du cimetière britannique à Caix, car c’est là que mon arrière grand-oncle, Henri Plouffe, est enterré. J’ai aussi très hâte à tous les nouvelles interactions que je vais avoir avec mes co-étudiants.

Aidan Hupé, Whitehorse YK


I am extremely excited to visit the Courcellette Memorial and learn more about this battle which I have a connection to. I researched about a soldier who died at this battle, and it will be interesting to learn more about it, so I can understand the conditions he fought and died in.

David Pugh, Brantford ON


After carefully considering all of the amazing events planned for this pilgrimage, I would have to say that the most moving and life changing event would probably be visiting the cemetery. For me, the opportunity to see the actual location of the soldier I researched and developed a connection with will be very moving and inspirational.

Declan Sander, Lethbridge AB


It was an excellent experience to be initially introduced to all my fellow Vimy Pilgrims. The part of this experience that I am most excited for is to hear my fellow pilgrims read out their soldier tributes at the various battle fields in the coming days.

Eric Weidmann, Fort Saskatchewan AB


Je suis très heureuse parce qu’aujourd’hui, j’ai rencontré tout le monde. Je suis très excité car dans ces prochains jours, nous allons entendre les biographies des soldats créées par les participants du programme.

Brooke Glazier, North Vancouver BC


I am really looking forward to being at the Vimy Ridge memorial on its anniversary. Since I was young, I would always read and see pictures of it and always wanted to visit. It’s hard to believe that I will not only be there in a few days but on its anniversary!

Cassandra Gillen, Pointe-Claire QC


Although we were all extremely jet lagged, I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting Canadians from coast to coast today in Quebec, learning about our shared values as well as the ins and outs of our communities. This week, I look forward to connecting with young leaders across the country, continuing to learn about one another as well as the important history of the First World War through interactive visits and presentations.

David He, Burnaby BC


As a minority in Canada, the First World War never truly felt like my history. As I did more research with the Vimy Pilgrimage Program, however, I discovered a new truth. I am looking forward to further exploring the stories of Black Canadians in the First World War and discovering more of the ways that this story is mine too.

Keneisha Charles, Kelowna BC


I am very eager to make new friends and expand my knowledge of the First World War. I am looking forward to paying my respects to many Canadians who largely contributed to Canada’s war effort. This is truly an amazing opportunity, I hope to apply what I learn and experience to my future studies.

Gillian Huppee, Foam Lake SK


After my first day here, I am very excited for what is yet to come. With the experiences that I will gain from my time here, as well as the knowledge that I will soon attain about the First World War.

Elizabeth Gagné, Regina SK


Although I am very jet-lagged, I’m ever more grateful to all our chaperones and the Vimy Foundation for making this program possible. I look forward to exploring Canada’s First World War history first-hand, “on-the-field” at the Ypres Salient tomorrow! It will be such an eye-opening experience!

Joon Sohn, Surrey BC


I have had two flights, not enough sleep, and I am so tired but I know it’s all worth what we will be seeing this week. I can’t tell you one thing I’m looking forward to because there are so many things I can’t wait to see. I guess one important one to me besides Vimy is the Christmas day truce memorial. I learned about it in my elementary school and want to learn more about it from this program.

Andrew Poirier, York (Hamlet of) ON


Une des choses que j’ai vraiment hâte est d’apprendre sur le terrain, sur les champs de bataille. J’ai hâte de voir c’est quoi la sensation perçue lorsque le passé est aussi réel et présent autour de nous. J’ai aussi très hâte d’apprendre comment commémorer en groupe, comment jouer de concert avec un groupe d’étudiants qui devient de moins en moins inconnu sur un sujet aussi émouvant.

Emma Roy, Ste-Sophie QC


After spending weeks researching the lives of two selfless soldiers, I am excited to present their tributes to pay my respects. I also hope to learn more about Canada’s effort during the First World War and am eager to visit the historic sites that bring the nation’s history to life.

Navjot Khaira, Surrey BC


Ce sera un honneur d’avoir l’occasion de reconnaitre le sacrifice des soldats canadiens de la Grande Guerre. J’ai particulièrement hâte de visiter le Mémorial de Vimy, pour sa grande signification pour le Canada, et d’en apprendre plus sur les conditions de vie dans les tranchées. J’espère ressortir de cette expérience avec une vision plus claire de la Première Guerre mondiale et de ses effets sur notre société.

Rosalie Gendron, Lévis QC


I am very jet lagged and tired, but am already having an amazing experience. I am most looking forward to visit Vimy Ridge. Standing in the same places as Canadian soldiers did in war, but to do it in peacetime will be an incredible experience.

Katie Clyburne, Halifax NS


I hope to make lots of new friends on this journey as well as learn more on the history of the First World War. I have had a wonderful time so far as the people are great and the ice breaker games were lots of fun. I can’t wait to see what this week brings!

Stephanie Budden, Stephenville NL


It’s only our second day but it already feels like we’ve been here for so long! It’s my first time going to Europe so I’m very excited to travel and learn more about the First World War. I’m particularly excited to see the Vimy Memorial as many people have told me it is absolutely breathtaking.

Zachary Collins, Toronto ON


This experience has been great so far, especially meeting everyone and seeing some of the Belgian countryside. Already, I can tell the program is going to be incredible, and I look forward to learning more about Canada and the First World War.

Theo Thompson-Armstrong, Halifax NS


Although it is difficult to pick only one of the incredible things I am looking forward to this week, I am most excited to visit the grave of my Great Great Uncle Bud who died fighting nearby Ypres, Belgium.  Here I will be able to lay a pair of wool socks that he had written home asking for in 1915, but never lived to see.  Of course, I am also excited to continue sharing my passion for history with the other VPA delegates and chaperones!

Faith Emiry, Massey ON






Vimy Pilgrimage Award Blog – 2 April 2019

Our 2019 Vimy Pilgrimage Award recipients have left Canada for a week-long immersive educational program in Belgium and France to study Canada’s First World War effort. Follow along as they blog about their experience! (Please note: participants will blog in their mother tongue.) Thank you to Scotiabank and Air Canada for all their support!

Today’s first blogs come from our chaperones:

Everyone has made it to Montreal and we are ready to ship off to Brussels. I’m looking forward to meeting our participants and getting the 2019 VPA started. We have a great itinerary lined up and a fantastic group of students. Having the opportunity to learn about the First World War while experiencing the sites and battlefields is a tremendous opportunity for the students to immerse themselves in the stories that marked this critical period in not only Canadian, but also world history.

-Sean Graham

The VPA 2019 program is underway! I’m looking forward to what the next week has in store – getting to know an incredible group of young Canadians, working together with my fellow chaperones who share a passion for history and teaching, and visiting important First World War sites on the Western Front. The students are about to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to immerse themselves in history and connect to the past through experiential learning!

-Sara Karn

The day is finally here! After much anticipation, we have all made it to Montreal and are about to head overseas. With an exciting itinerary ahead of us, I look forward to visiting and experiencing the important sites and battlefields from the First World War with a phenomenal group of students from across Canada. Stay tuned!

-Lindsay Fraser-Noel

Since the moment they learned that they have been selected as recipients of the 2019 Vimy Pilgrimage Award, this group of students has been busy preparing for the program by completing academic readings, organizing group presentation materials, and by preparing a presentation about an individual who is buried or commemorated overseas. Over the past few months, each one of these students has already contributed something unique to this group with their work ethic and dedication to learning Canada’s military past.

By leading on-site lectures, asking thought provoking questions, and sharing in respectful historical debates, myself and my fellow chaperones will guide these young scholars across the landscapes, battlefields, memorials, and museums in Belgium and France. I look forward to marking the 102nd anniversary of the Battle for Vimy Ridge alongside the 2019 VPA recipients.

-Katrina Pasierbek

C’est avec joie que je prends part au programme du Prix du pèlerinage Vimy 2019 en tant que nouvel accompagnateur. Tout comme nos jeunes participants, je découvrirai et explorerai pour la première fois les champs de bataille, les musées et les lieux de mémoire en Belgique et en France. J’ai bien hâte de discuter avec eux, et avec les autres accompagnateurs, des usages que nous faisons du passé et des récits que nous partageons sur la participation du Canada à la Première Guerre mondiale. Nul doute que cette opportunité sera enrichissante pour tous!

– Benoit Longval

Tribute to Aubrey Mitchell
February 22, 2019

Keneisha Charles, 17, of Kelowna, British Columbia, is a recipient of our 2019 Vimy Pilgrimage Award and will be travelling with us to France and Belgium in April 2019. As part of the application process, each student is asked to choose a soldier or nursing sister from the First World War, research their biography, and compose a tribute to your soldier/nursing sister in the form of a letter/song/poem/etc.

We were very moved by all the applications, and wanted to share Keneisha’s research and tribute to Aubrey Mitchell, Canadian Expeditionary Force, in honour of Black History Month.


A Brief Biography of Private Aubrey Mitchell

Aubrey Mitchell’s life began on August 19, 1896, in the small, southern Caribbean island of Saint Vincent. Little is known about his early years, other than the fact that he never married and was survived by his mother, Eva Binder. (Leroux) His life changed around the turn of the century when he became one of 21,500 individuals that immigrated from the Caribbean to Canada between 1900 and 1960. (Labelle) He made his new home in Halifax, Nova Scotia, joining the growing community of black immigrants; most of them descendants of former Canadian and American slaves. (Walker)

Despite being a newcomer to Canada, he felt the strong energy that was prevalent among young men his age to serve his country. However, this was not an easy task for him and hundreds of other black men that sought to enlist when the Great War broke out. Black volunteers were told it was a “White man’s war” and largely turned away from recruitment stations (Ruck 3). Even when the Canadian government spoke openly against discriminating against volunteers based on ethnicity, racism within regiments was rampant and many white volunteers refused to serve alongside black volunteers. However, Mitchell and other black men remained undeterred and continued to lobby for two years until they finally had their big break when the No. 2 Construction Battalion was authorized on July 5, 1916. This unit allowed approximately 605 black men to serve, hailing from all over Canada, the USA, and like Mitchell, the British West Indies. (Ruck) Mitchell enlisted on August 28, 1916– just a little over a week after his twentieth birthday. (Library)

The struggle that Mitchell would face was just beginning, it would seem. His unit, nicknamed the Black Battalion, continued to face discrimination and was largely segregated from other units in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. This discrimination was also why the unit would be a construction unit, tasked with non-combat roles. Mitchell sailed from Halifax to Liverpool, England in March 1917, arriving after a tense, ten-day journey with the threat of submarine attack looming beneath them. Their service was comprised of physically strenuous, necessary tasks such as building roads, railway tracks and bridges, defusing landmines to allow troops to proceed onward, removing the wounded from the battlefield, and digging and building trenches. (Ruck)

Tragedy continued to plague the battalion as within the span of a month, they lost too many soldiers to continue labelling themselves a battalion, instead being downgraded to a company. (Ruck) On April 17, 1917, Aubrey Mitchell, aged twenty, joined the dead. The circumstances of his death are unknown but it is likely that he died from illness, as did many of his compatriots. He was buried in the Seaford Cemetery in Sussex, United Kingdom. (Commonwealth)

Mitchell and many other members of the Black Battalion became lost in history, their contributions to the war effort and to social inclusion downplayed or forgotten. The contributions of Mitchell and his comrades are now being recognized in recent years, his name and many others finally receiving the recognition they deserve.



Tribute to Aubrey Mitchell

To be young,
and Black
in 1916
was to be born into a special kind of bondage.
Segregation holding onto lives like ball-chains on ankles,
sneers in the streets striking as hard as whips upon backs,
their derision a new master to try to keep you in line,
but your blood runs hot in devotion to something bigger than yourself;
because you’re a Black man
who will be damned if you see freedom
pillaged from free people.
When you signed your name upon that line
did you think of me;
a young, black kid
with Saint Vincent in her blood
one hundred years later
who might be anything she wants to be?
Did you know you would have this legacy?
Dear Aubrey Mitchell—
because of you,
I have a chance to be
young, black, and free,
and I want to say
thank you
for allowing me
to be me.

— Keneisha Charles

Read Aubrey Mitchell’s service file here from Library and Archives Canada.

Works Cited (Bibliography)
Commonwealth War Graves Commission. n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2018.,-aubrey/.
Labelle, M., et al. “Caribbean Canadians.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 17 Mar. 2010. Web. 30 Oct. 2018.
Leroux, Marc. “Private Aubrey Mitchell.” Canadian Great War Project. 11 Nov. 2016. Web. 30 Oct. 2018.
Ruck, Lindsay. “No. 2 Construction Battalion.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. 16 June 2016. Web. 30 Oct. 2018.
Veterans Affairs Canada. 26 Oct. 2018. Web. 30 Oct. 2018.
Walker, James. “Black Canadians.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. 19 Feb. 2013. Web. 30 Oct. 2018.


The 2019 Vimy Pilgrimage Award recipients

January 23, 2019

The Vimy Foundation is proud to announce the recipients of the 2019 Vimy Pilgrimage Award. This award recognizes the actions of young people who demonstrate an outstanding commitment to volunteer work through positive contributions, notable deeds, or bravery that benefits their peers, school, community, province, or country.

The Vimy Pilgrimage Award consists of a fully funded week-long educational program in Belgium and France to study Canada’s tremendous First World War effort. The program, scheduled for April 2–10, 2019 features daily visits to important First World War sites including museums, cemeteries, and historic battlefields, as well as participation in the Vimy Day commemoration ceremony at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.

20 students were selected from across Canada. We are so thankful to everyone who applied and appreciate your dedication to community service and your interest in Canadian history.

Congratulations to this year’s winners:

Stephanie Budden – Stephenville, Newfoundland and Labrador
Keneisha Charles – Kelowna, British Columbia
Katie Clyburne – Halifax, Nova Scotia
Zachary Collins – Toronto, Ontario
David He – Burnaby, British Columbia
Faith Emiry – Massey, Ontario
Elizabeth Gagné – Regina, Saskatchewan
Rosalie Gendron – Lévis, Québec
Cassandra Gillen – Pointe-Claire, Québec
Brooke Glazier – North Vancouver, British Columbia
Aidan Hupé – Whitehorse, Yukon
Gillian Huppee – Foam Lake, Saskatchewan
Navjot Kaur Khaira – Surrey, British Columbia
Andrew Poirier – York (Haldimand County), Ontario
David Pugh – Brantford, Ontario
Emma Roy – Sainte-Sophie, Québec
Declan Sander – Lethbridge, Alberta
Joon Hyeong Sohn – Surrey, British Columbia
Theo Thompson-Armstrong – Halifax, Nova Scotia
Eric Weidmann – Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta


Thank you to our lead sponsor Scotiabank for their generous support of the Vimy Pilgrimage Award. Scotiabank aims to support organizations that are committed to helping young people reach their infinite potential.



This program is also sponsored by Air Canada: The First World War is an important, strategic moment in Canadian history and Air Canada is proud to support our youth and tomorrow’s leaders by sponsoring the 2019 Vimy Pilgrimage Award, allowing 20 exceptional teenagers from across Canada to learn and remember.

Thank you to Canada’s History for their ongoing support of the Vimy Pilgrimage Award.


The 1919 Paris Peace Conference
A Centenary Action

Canada and the Paris Peace Conference

Following the armistice to end the fighting on November 11, 1918, as Canadian troops began the return voyage to Canada, the victorious Allied nations prepared to meet at Versailles, France to draw up the treaty terms to formally conclude the war.

While the Dominion countries were not originally invited to have separate representation, during the months of preparation for the Paris Peace conference, Sir Robert Borden demanded that Canada have a distinct seat due to the immense contribution and sacrifice of Canada during the war.

Despite reservations from other countries, particularly the United States who felt that representation from the dominions equated to a larger voice for Britain, as a result of Borden and the other delegates’ efforts Canada and the other dominions succeeded in their claims and did gain a place at the table.

The main result of the Paris Peace Conference, the Treaty of Versailles, was signed on June 28, 1919, five years after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife.

Canada signed the Treaty independently, but the signature was indented under “British Empire”. While this did reflect the continued ambiguity of Canada and the other dominions’ role in the world, it did represent a significant step for Canada gaining full independence over its foreign policy and also a seat in the League of Nations.


Allies around conference table – Treaty of Versailles. 1919. Library and Archives Canada: C-000242.


Notable participants:

John W. Dafoe was one of Canada’s most influential journalists, and in 1919, he attended the Paris Peace Conference as a representative of the Canadian Press and greatly informed Canadians’ understanding of the proceedings. A fervent promoter of Canadian autonomy in external relations, Dafoe encouraged Canadian participation in international conferences and organizations that emerged in the wake of the First World War. In 1928, with Sir Robert Borden, Sir Arthur Currie and Sir Joseph W. Flavelle, he founded the Canadian Institute of International Affairs (CIIA) to help Canadians better prepare for their role in international meetings.


November 4 – Women in the First World War
First World War Centennial Speaker Series

On November 4, 2018, historian and author Charlotte Gray spoke to attendees in Cobourg, Ontario about “Women in the First World War”.

Women hold bazaar for war aid. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 872. Colourization by Canadian Colour.

She started her lecture by discussing the stories we tell as a country about our own history:

“Aspects of the First World War have passed from history into mythology. The stories we in this country have told ourselves about our national origins evolve with each generation. The re-emergence of Vimy into collective memory is part of one such origin story. And it’s a story that the federal government in fact of the early 20th century promoted: Canada as a warrior nation. This story now runs parallel to other national origin stories.

For instance, in the late 19th century, the story of Canada was seen as the story of the Dominion of entirely British character. This is the imperial story: it’s the colony to nation story. Then, in the mid-20th century, another version of Canadian history surfaced, this one in which East-West links defined the country. First the mighty waterways, then the railroads were the glue that kept this country together. Suddenly it wasn’t history that defined Canada, it was our geography.

Can we separate myth from history in this post-truth era? Most of us have actually come to realize that every version of history is laden with value judgments, biases, and assumptions about whose voices should be heard – and particularly, whose voices should be ignored.”

Charlotte then mentions that it is now commonly believed that the Great War revolutionized women’s lives: “It’s always been said that it liberated working class women from the drudgery of domestic service by opening up other opportunities. We also assume that within the limitations of the fiercely segregated gender roles back then, women were all as committed to the national effort as the men.” However, as she will point out, some of the ways that the First World War impacted women’s lives were not as straightforward as we like to assume today. But for women the most radical impact on their lives was that most of them would be granted the right to vote in federal elections.


Soldiers are seen off as they leave for war, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 824. (Modified from the original). Provided by The Vimy Foundation.


In this short clip, Charlotte Gray discusses the dilemma faced by suffragists at the outbreak of war in 1914:

What about our traditional understanding of the roles of women during the war?

Margaret Atwood writes in They Fought in Colour about some of the changing roles for women at this point: “Many people had war-connected jobs. Women stepped into jobs that would have been done by men if there had been enough men remaining to do them. Women ran farms, worked in factories making shells and other military equipment, and sewed uniforms and war gear, including the trench coats that became such an important garment for those living in the cold wet mud-tunnels of the front. Women also tended gardens, ran canning clubs to preserve food, sold Victory Bonds, and helped with recruitment drives. They joined war committees, raising money to send care packages to the troops, or to train nurses to serve not only overseas but — increasingly — back home, tending the soldiers who were too mangled to be patched up and sent back to the trenches.”

Women workers at Dr. Alexander Graham Bell’s laboratory, Beinn Bhreagh. Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-024363 (modified from the original). Colourization by Canadian Colour.

But even in less-traditional roles, tensions still existed within the women’s movement. Watch this clip of Charlotte Gray discussing the work of women in munitions factories:

Assembly Department, British Munitions Supply Co. Ltd., Verdun, P.Q. Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA- 024436 (modified from the original). Colourization by Canadian Colour.

After years of effort, the right to vote was finally extended at the federal level to (some) women. From Charlotte Gray: “And then, in September 1917, the Union Government led by Prime Minister Robert Borden, passed its Wartime Elections Act. The government’s motivation in introducing this bill was transparent and had little to do with commitment to equal rights or social justice. The government’s preoccupation was its commitment to send yet more men to the front, but the supply of volunteers had dried up.

Conscription appeared to be the only solution but it was deeply unpopular with many groups, particularly within Quebec. The Prime Minister realized he needed to demonstrate popular support for conscription, so he extended the franchise first to nurses, who looked after hospitals in France, and then to the wives, widows, mothers and sisters of soldiers serving overseas. All strongly in favour of conscription. Their boys were in the trenches. They knew they needed help. Many of them had been fighting without any kind of break or relief for more than a year, more than two years. It was unbelievably hard.

But whatever the government’s Machiavellian motivation in 1917, the cat was now out of the bag. There was no way that suffrage at the federal level could be rolled back. It had to be granted more widely. And in May 1918, all women over the age of 21 and not alien-born, and meeting the property requirements of their province, were allowed to vote in federal elections.

However the Act did not apply to all women. Besides the alien-born, women from minority groups, including women from Asian backgrounds, were not granted voting rights. And it would be another 42 years before indigenous women, alongside men, got the unconditional right to vote.”

Nursing Sisters at a Canadian Hospital voting in the Canadian federal election. Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA- 002279 (modified from the original). Colourization by Canadian Colour.

In summary, Charlotte Gray believes that:  “Despite the appearances, World War One’s impact on women’s lives was less than it has often been painted.”


Discussion questions:

– Charlotte Gray quotes Nellie McClung as saying that if women had been in charge of the world, the First World War would not have happened. Do you think this is the case? Are women more attuned to peace-making than men? Do women run countries differently than men? Look at current and past political female leaders around the world as you consider your position.

– We often think of the First World War provided a chance for women to take on new jobs and roles in society. Why would the impact of the First World War on women’s lives have been exaggerated?

– Imagine you are the wife, daughter or sister to someone in an ethnic group who was interned during the war, such as Ukrainian, German, or Polish. Is it fair that you would not have the right to vote at the same time as other women? Describe how you would feel after the Wartime Elections Act of 1917.

– Imagine you are a woman working in a factory during the war, producing munitions for the war effort. When the war ends, you no longer have a job as the returning veterans take up jobs at the factories. How would this make you feel?

– Motherhood is a theme that comes up regularly in discussions about the suffrage movement during the First World War. Why was this so central to debates about women voting?

– Charlotte Gray posits that the voices we exclude from our history stories are just as informative as the voices we include. Are there still voices missing from our understanding of the First World War? Where should we look to fill in some of those voices 100 years later?

– This page contains photos that have been colourized. Use the Vimy 100 in the Classroom guide on ‘Photography in the First World War‘ to analyze the photos and the addition of colour.


The Capture of Mons and the Armistice
A centenary action

The German government had begun peace negotiations with the Allies on October 4 when it sent a telegram to President Wilson. With its allies dropping out of the war (Bulgaria signed an armistice on September 30, the Ottoman Empire on October 30 and the Austro-Hungarian Empire on November 3), its armies in full retreat and its population starving at home, Germany had no choice but to pursue an Armistice.

However, armistice negotiations take time, and the allies, especially Wilson, refused to negotiate with anything but a democratic government in Germany. Although the Germans hoped for a negotiated peace, it soon became clear that the Allies, especially France, would not settle for anything less than an unconditional surrender.

In the midst of the general rapid German retreat, there were still ambushes, artillery attacks and intense firefights for villages in which German units had decided to make a last stand. The Canadians crossed into Belgium on November 7, and by November 9 they were in the outlying suburbs of Mons.

General Currie had orders to capture the city, so he ordered an attack on Mons on November 10. While Currie knew war would be over soon, he had no confirmation of this, or of the Kaiser’s abdication, by November 10. Nevertheless, this decision has caused much controversy ever since, with some accusing Currie of being a butcher and sacrificing Canadian lives for a symbolic victory when the war was already won.

The city of Mons was symbolic as it was where the British Expeditionary Force had fought their first engagement with the Germans back in 1914. To retake it on the last day of the war was a powerful symbol. It had also been under German occupation for the entirety of the war, and used as a critical logistical centre. Currie wanted to take it to break German morale, and ensure that the Germans did not think they had any pieces for negotiation. While Currie’s senior officers did not protest, the men on the ground were less pleased, but obeyed nonetheless.

The Battle of Mons itself was planned as an encircling maneuver, with the 2nd Division attacking from the South and Southeast, and the 3rd Division attacking from the East. On November 10, the Canadians pushed into the outskirts of the city, with patrol skirmishes but no large-scale assaults on dug-in German positions. There was no massive bombardment of the city, according to orders from higher command.

At around 11pm, platoons from the 42nd Battalion and the RCR made it through the southern defences of the city. From the west, other companies crossed into the city over bridges.  By early morning on November 11, those units were engaged in urban combat, street fighting as they moved into the city. The last of the German defenders were surrendering or dying when, at 6:30am, the Canadian Corps headquarters got the news that the Armistice would begin at 11am. It took time for the message to get across the front, but most units knew by 9am. The Canadians finished pushing the Germans out of the city and pursued them East. The civilian inhabitants of Mons awoke to find themselves liberated.

Fourteen men from the 42nd and the RCR were killed, seventy wounded and two missing during the attack on Mons. Casualties from the 2nd Division’s attack are unknown.

The last soldier of the British Empire to die in the First World War was a Canadian. Private George Price of the 28th Battalion, 2nd Division, was killed by a sniper bullet to the chest at 10:58 on November 11. Two minutes later, the guns fell silent.

During the Hundred Days Campaign, from August 8 to November 11, the Canadian Corps lost over 45,000 casualties. In the entire war, the Canadian Expeditionary Force sent roughly 425,000 Canadians to Europe. The Canadians Corps suffered over 60,000 killed and 172,000 wounded.

Canadians marching through the streets of Mons on the morning of 11 November 1918.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-003547. Colourization by Canadian Colour.