Keneisha Charles’ Reflections on the Vimy Pilgrimage Award

Keneisha Charles, 2019 Vimy Pilgrimage Award recipient

In April 2019, I travelled to France and Belgium to experience First World War history with 19 youth from across Canada through the Vimy Pilgrimage Award program. My expectations were trepidatious. I never truly connected with Canadian history. The experiences of Black and other racialized people are typically either ignored or offered as a fragmented side-note of incomplete trauma and superficial reconciliation. History was a confusing, bitter, and often painful subject for me.

The VPA helped me find a new meaning. As we toured monuments, museums, and cemeteries, I was able to see, touch, and feel the past. But most of all, I was able to do it through a lens of Blackness with Private Aubrey Mitchell and Private Vincent Carvery.

We’re not related, and they died over 100 years ago. But over the week, they became family.

War was for the White man. Yet these Black men chose to serve in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. I grappled to understand the racism, the trauma they endured, but most of all, the humanity they exhibited in the face of it all.

This was a journey. It was filled with laughter and new friendships, but also pain and vulnerability as I asked questions of myself and of history that I had never known to ask. And as I learned the stories of Aubrey and Vincent, I learned more about my own, too.

I come from a legacy of resilience. And though they may not talk about Canada’s Black Battalion in textbooks or films, I will always know their names and I will always remember the place in history they carved for me—a place that I will not let be taken away.

To my fellow participants, thank you for reminding me what community feels like. Thank you for letting me draw on your strength. Thank you for walking this journey alongside me.

To the chaperones and the Vimy Foundation, thank you for giving me the space to ask the questions I needed to ask and feel what I needed to feel.

And to Aubrey and Vincent. You give me strength. Strength to face a world that I sometimes feel wasn’t made for me. Strength to continue to make space for myself and others where there wasn’t before. Strength to be Black, despite any and every thing. I am so proud to have ancestors like you.

Endless love and gratitude.

Vimy Pilgrimage Award Blog – 10 April 2019

After an incredible week, our VPA 2019 students said their goodbyes and departed for home early this morning. For the last blog entry of this program, we asked our new Vimy Pilgrimage Award alumni to describe their experience in one line; read their thoughts here. (Please note: participants will blog in their language of preference.)

The program provided a modern perspective to the First World War, as while the devastation of war was a prominent theme, topics of present day reconciliation were also addressed, which is not always the case in school.

— Navjot Kaur Khaira, Surrey BC

 

This experience completely transformed my perception of the First World War and truly taught me that this legacy is all of ours to remember.

— Keneisha Charles, Kelowna, BC

 

Le programme a dépassé mes attentes; nous avons eu la chance de partager des opportunités fantastiques avec 20 Canadiens qui viennent de partout au Canada et qui étaient gagnants du Prix du pèlerinage de Vimy.

— Brooke Glazier, North Vancouver, BC

 

This program has been such a life changing experience; I have learned and acquired more information in a week than any history class could ever teach me.

— Elizabeth Gagné, Regina, SK

 

Le programme m’a menée à porter un regard différent sur la Première Guerre mondiale et m’a permis de rencontrer des personnes exceptionnelles : cette expérience a été fantastique !

— Rosalie Gendron, Lévis, QC

 

Ce programme a été immensément amusant, et j’ai absolument adoré tous les monuments, cimetières et musées.

— Aidan Hupé, Whitehorse, Yukon

 

I was so honoured to be able to take part in this program- in which I was able to gain so many new perspectives about Canada and the First World War.

— Faith Emiry, Massey, Ontario

 

The program not only exceeded my expectations, but it opened my eyes to the atrocities of the first world war- especially the casualties from both sides.

— Declan Sander, Lethbridge, Alberta

 

During the Vimy Pilgrimage Award 2019 I learned so much about the First World War and I will never forget this experience- I can’t wait to share my stories about this amazing program with others.

— Gillian Huppee, Foam Lake, Saskatchewan

 

The Vimy Pilgrimage Award program creates the perfect learning environment for youth, welcoming them into an open environment that emphasizes remembrance and respect for the First World War and the people who served in it.

— David Pugh, Brantford, Ontario

 

This experience has been truly amazing; I now have a different perspective on the First World War and know that the legacy of the soldiers must be remembered by all so that their sacrifice was not in vain.

— Katie Clyburne, Halifax NS

 

The Vimy Pilgrimage Award has been everything I hoped for; learning about Canada, fostering a greater appreciation for the sacrifices made during the First World War, visiting important gravesites, and making new friends from across Canada – overall an experience I will never forget and will always cherish.

— Theo Thompson-Armstrong, Halifax NS

 

Through all the cemeteries, museums and monuments, I learned of the many social and cultural effects of the First World War and their effects on both Canadians and the rest of the world.

— Eric Weidmann Fort Saskatchewan, AB

 

The Vimy Pilgrimage Award helped me gain a deeper level of understanding on how to approach and analyze history; because we were taught how to think, not what to think.

— Joon Sohn, Surrey BC

 

I learned so much from this program including how to think critically and how to consider multiple perspectives of the First World War.

— Cassandra Gillen, Pointe-Claire QC

 

Reflecting on the week as a whole, I’ve grown drastically with my critically thinking skills as well as communication. To be there, on the battlefield where history took place 102 years ago adds a new sense of depth to my learning as well as my personal development.

— David He, Burnaby BC

 

What an experience that has changed my life forever; I am so pleased to have been chosen for the Vimy Pilgrimage Award so I can learn so many things about the First World War and now be able to teach people about my experience and about what these men truly went through during those four deadly years.

— Andrew Poirier, Haldimand County, ON

 

Comment décrire une expérience qui, en une semaine, nous fait développer des liens profonds avec des gens complètement inconnus, qui nous permet de comprendre la chance qu’on a d’être soi-même en 2019, qui fait énormément grandir et met un terme au passé sans jamais l’oublier et nous permet de continuer vers l’avant?

— Emma Roy, Ste-Sophie, QC

 

It was an experience of a lifetime as I was able to learn about the history of the First World War, commemorate those who fought for our freedom, and make friendships that will last forever.

— Stephanie Budden, Stephenville, NL

 

Participating in the Vimy Pilgrimage Award has taught me much more about not just the First World War but also its consequences, and it has greatly helped to shift my perspective on understanding the importance of international relations in the past, present, and future.

— Zachary Collins, Toronto, ON

Vimy Pilgrimage Award Blog – 9 April 2019

On the last day of the program, the VPA 2019 students visited the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, a very important and moving experience. The group visited the Vimy Education Centre, the new Vimy Centennial Park and participated in a ceremony commemorating the 102nd anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge where Aidan and Keneisha read the Commitment to Remember as Eric, Zach, and Rosalie laid a wreath. Later in the day, they visited the Maison Blanche underground tunnels and the Neuville St-Vaast German Cemetery. Read the students’ posts from Theo, Zachary, David He and Keneisha. (Please note: participants will blog in their language of preference.)

Today was an amazing day to finish the 2019 Vimy Pilgrimage. It started off with visiting the Memorial at Vimy Ridge, which has always promised to be one of the most spectacular sights of the program, and it did not disappoint. Many people who I spoke to before about their Vimy experiences said that seeing it can change your life, fill you with emotions, and overall profoundly impact you. I can now say this for myself, as today’s experience has been incredible. When we arrived, we took half an hour to experience the monument alone, undistracted by phones and people. During this time, I took time to reflect on why the monument is so incredible, and quickly realized it is not about the monument itself, but what is represents. 3,598 Canadian soldiers died on April 9, 1917 at Vimy, and 102 years later for so many young people to be in that very place, thinking about their sacrifice, is a testament that their memory will not be forgotten. Today near the end of the day I also had the most important part of the program for myself, which was visiting the grave of my relative Alfred Snow Churchill who died on April 9, 1917. I am one of very few, if not the first family member to visit his grave, and it is an experience I will always cherish.

Theo Thompson-Armstrong, Halifax NS

 

April 9. Vimy Day. The final day of the program. For myself, the day of my second, original soldier presentation. Private Fenton Brownell is the solider I wrote about in my application to the Award, and the soldier that helped to bring me here. After the Battle of Vimy Ridge Ceremony, we headed to a few cemeteries to finish up soldier presentations. Entering Nine Elms Military Cemetery in Pas-de-Calais, I could not help but feel slightly emotional as I knew that Brownell was now nearby. To see his grave, as well as that nearby of his brother, Charles, was a moment at which I realized I had been anticipating since I first found out that I would be heading to Europe. Detailing the life and death of Fenton and his brother, as well as another buried elsewhere, was something I can describe only as heartbreaking. I could never imagine losing two family members on the same day, and a third just months later. Reading aloud the fictional letter I wrote from Fenton’s mother to him, I felt my eyes water as I knew that while the situation I described may not have been a reality for the Brownell family, it surely occurred for many families affected by the Great War. I hope that by telling these stories and ensuring the legacies of soldiers are never forgotten, we can prevent such events from occurring again in the future.

Zachary Collins, Toronto ON

 

Today marked the 102nd anniversary of the start of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, a battle that would go down in history, textbooks and even passports alike. The whole week that we were in Europe, we learned about the importance of this battle as well as the history, controversy and debates behind the First World War. For the events today, the ceremony seemed surreal. I’ve seen the ceremonies, the events all on TV but to be there in person with the armed forces, dignitaries and veterans, it was truly an amazing experience that I will not forget. It was also a great feeling to finally hear our tour guides speak with a Canadian accent! Standing there at the memorial, it felt Canadian. The mist, the fog in the air resembled what I would typically see in British Columbia. It felt like home. I always try to imagine and put myself in the shoes of those who’ve been through these battles and these experiences. I certainly felt as if I was at home, standing on top of the carefully carved stairs. Maybe, I imagine, those soldiers would feel the same. Across the Atlantic, maybe, the battles felt Canadian. At the end of the day, today was an experience and a time of reflection for myself as well as my peers. Sometimes, we need to feel as if we were home in order to fight a battle far from home.

David He, Burnaby, BC

 

Today was the pinnacle of the Vimy Pilgrimage program. Although I was aware of Vimy’s legendary status as the “birth of a nation”, I wasn’t expecting to be so profoundly affected by the sight of the monument.

It was like a living thing, rising out of the fog. Plaques read around the pillars: dates, battles, names. Distantly, a bell tolls.

As I stood there with these people I have mourned with, celebrated with, learned with over this past week, I was struck by the sudden realization that this is ours.

In a time where all of our First World War veterans have passed, this is our history to live or let die. The past is written here, in the stone and the grass— its trauma and its truth. How do we give that meaning? How do we reconcile past and present— present and future?

We remember.

We gather in a circle around a headstone in a cemetery along a dirt road and learn about a life now long gone. We stand in a trench and hold an umbrella over each other’s heads. We descend eight meters down and trace stone once touched by people we once knew.

We grow— together.

I didn’t realize how much I had grown until standing beside Mother Canada at the peak of the Vimy Memorial.

Before this journey, I did not believe that I had a place in Canadian history. Then I met Private Vincent Carvery and Private Aubrey Mitchell of the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s first and only Black battalion.

They created a space for me in history. They are the reason why later, I was honoured to present the Commitment of Remembrance at the ceremony. As I overlooked the audience, I felt a swell of pride to be here on equal ground representing their legacy. As I gazed at my fellow participants, each symbolically holding with them soldiers or nursing sisters, I felt the weight of all their legacies now on our shoulders.

I realized today that it’s not about the Battle of Vimy Ridge at all.

It’s about us.

The people we carry with us, the places we trace steps— the story that we are creating together.

This is the power of the Vimy memorial. 

Keneisha Charles, Kelowna, BC

Vimy Pilgrimage Award Blog – 8 April 2019

Still in France, our VPA 2019 recipients visited the Battle of Hill 70 Memorial and the Cabaret-Rouge Cemetery. In the afternoon, the students visited more sites including the French military cemetery Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, the Ring of Remembrance, and Cherisy. Read the students’ posts about their experiences. (Please note: participants will blog in their language of preference).

Aujourd’hui, nous sommes allés au Mémorial de la Côte 70. Je pense que ce monument était très intéressant à visiter parce que c’est un événement pas très connu. Le mémorial est dans un parc au nord de la France. Dans ce parc, il y avait un monument canadien qui a été créé cent ans après la guerre. La figure était située 70 mètres au-dessus du niveau de la mer pour représenter où la bataille était battue. Autour de ce monument, il y avait des petits détails qui représentent le Canada ; les feuilles d’érable et le drapeau du Canada étaient dessinés au sol.

Quand on était en devant du monument, nous avons parlé de l’efficacité du monument. Moi, je pense que ce monument est efficace en termes d’être respectueux aux soldats qui sont morts. Mais, je pense que par rapport aux informations pour le public, le monument n’est pas efficace. Toutes les informations que j’ai apprises sur le monument ont été grâce aux accompagnateurs et accompagnatrices du programme. Un des buts de ce monument est d’éduquer le public sur une bataille, mais l’héritage de la bataille ne peut pas être compris par la majorité des personnes. Je pense que ce monument a un grand potentiel d’être efficace pour la commémoration d’une bataille oubliée avec quelques changements de présentation pour le public.

Brooke Glazier, North Vancouver BC

 

580 000 – a number that can represent the population of a village, city, or in some cases an entire country. But that number also represents 580 000 brave young men who were loved brothers, fathers, and uncles, all with stories to tell. The Ring of Remembrance pays tribute to these soldiers and the unique memorial makes no distinction between their nationalities and rank. Standing on the platform at the entrance, I was surrounded by panels decorated with the names of fallen soldiers. With every step, more names came into focus and a flood of emotions washed over me. Feelings of sorrow and sympathy were prominent throughout the visit and stayed with me throughout the day. It was also at this memorial that I recognized the names of fallen Sikh soldiers, for the first time, which added a personal connection to the experience.

In addition to its ability to pay tribute those who sacrificed their life, the memorial extends to serve as a metaphor for the present day. Those who may have been enemies in past are now listed side by side, pointing to the trend of reconciliation between nations over the years. The Ring of Remembrance perfectly depicts the horrors of war but also illustrates humanity’s ability to move past tragedy, making it one of the most impactful sites I have visited during the program.

Navjot Kaur Khaira, Surrey BC

 

 

Today we visited the Bagneux British Cemetery where Emma presented a tribute for her nursing sister. Bagneux, as I later found out, happens to be one of the only cemeteries with headstones of Canadian nursing sisters. I felt this was a really important monument because the service and sacrifice of our nursing sisters are generally less well-known and perhaps, less appreciated. This is despite the fact that nursing sister also faced the same risks of death and injury as well as tough living conditions. When I checked the registers of cemeteries across the Western Front similar to this one, most were last signed around November 2018! The similar fact that 20 students from the homeland of nursing sisters travelled all the way to France to commemorate and honour the nursing sisters is actually really special. This cemetery may not have even seen 20 visitors this entire year! I am extremely grateful to have this privilege of doing so, and look forward to presenting the soldiers I’ve researched tomorrow.

Joon Hyeong Sohn, Surrey BC

 

 

Vimy Pilgrimage Award Blog – 7 April 2019

Today, our VPA2019 recipients visited Historial de la Grande Guerre and participated in an artefact workshop. In the afternoon, they toured Beaumont-Hamel with Canadian guide Miriam from Veterans Affairs Canada and visited Thiepval, the Courcelette Canadian Memorial, and the Lochnagar Crater Memorial. Read the students’ posts here. (Please note: participants will blog in their language of preference).

 

Aujourd’hui a été une journée bien remplie. On est allés à Beaumont-Hamel, le gros monument pour Terre-Neuve, on est allés au monument de Thiepval, un monument britannique et français, et de plus on est allés à l’Historial de la Grande Guerre, où on a pu interagir avec des artéfacts vieux de plus de cent ans !

Mais pour moi, la plus importante partie de la journée a été ma présentation sur mon soldat, mon arrière-arrière oncle, Henri Plouffe. Henri Plouffe était un Canadien-français, né le 16 septembre 1885, à St-Anne, un petit village au Manitoba. Il a joint la Force Expéditionnaire canadienne le 12 Avril 1916. Henri a combattu à Passchendaele, et aussi à Amiens. Henri était un jeune homme très passionné, et aussi très aidant. Il a beaucoup montré preuve de sa nature aidante même durant son expérience à la guerre; quand un de ses camarades s’est fait tirer par une balle allemande dans l’épaule. Il aidait un officier non-commissionné à donner des premiers soins à l’autre soldat, quand un obus allemand est venu exploser à côté du trio, les tuant instantanément.

Dans l’heure menant à ma présentation, j’étais un peu nerveux. Je n’ai aucune idée pourquoi j’étais nerveux, mais je l’étais. Quand j’ai trouvé sa tombe, j’étais surmonté d’émotion; j’ai simplement commencé à pleurer. Tout la nervosité a disparue en un clin d’œil, et je me sentais serein, au pied de la tombe de mon arrière-grand-oncle. Je lui ai dit une prière, et je lui ai parlé. J’ai pu lui parler de comment il manquait fortement la famille, et comment j’aurais bien aimé le rencontrer.

Avoir la chance de présenter l’histoire d’Henri et l’histoire de ma famille a été un honneur immense et inoubliable. C’est sûr que je retournerai le visiter dans les années qui viennent. Henri va me manquer, et j’espère que la croix que j’ai laissée pour lui restera à ses côtés.

Aidan Hupe, Whitehorse, YK

 

Over the course of this program and especially today, something has struck me: how peaceful it is here. For a place that was once in ruins, one hundred years later seems virtually untouched- with the exception of the evident scars. While we were at Beaumont-Hamel, however, it was calm and peaceful. Yet this is the location of one of the bloodiest battles in history. I was in awe of the contrast presented in front of me. How different the area now is; I couldn’t believe my eyes when realizing the full extent of this site. How many lives were lost in just a small area. I had to stop and take in the reality of what this place was and is. The sacrifices that were made here, and the terror that reigned in this area. After remaining in this mindset, I was interrupted by a peace and calm once again. It made me reflect on how symbolic Beaumont-Hamel is. Could it truly be a peaceful resting place for the fallen of the most horrific battle? The irony of it stands out, though it also brings it all together. In the midst of where there was once terror and warfare there was a peace that surpassed understanding.

Elizabeth Gagné, Regina SK

 

Visiting Beaumont-Hamel today was nothing less than incredible. Learning of the approximately eight hundred Newfoundlanders who were killed, leaving a whole generation left without men, lead to both tremendous benefits and brutal curses. The men who died at Beaumont-Hamel brought into my mind some of the social and cultural shifts that took place throughout this time period on the home front. The shift that affected me the most, due to all the women in my life, was that with all the men gone, women were forced into the factories. While this change didn’t immediately change the prevailing sentiment at the end of the war, it did lay the backbone for the future women’s rights activists for the cultural shifts to come. However, this tremendous advancement didn’t come without tremendous sacrifices – the loss of the sovereignty of a nation. As Newfoundland was unable to overcome its mass human losses due to its relatively small size, it faced incredible economic pressure to give up its sovereignty, inevitably leading to its induction into Canada, which opposed the beliefs of many native Newfoundlanders at the time. These emotional explorations and cultural revelations, through both the ups and downs, lead to both emotional and intellectual changes within me, that I hope to be able to take advantage of in the future.

Eric Weidmann, Fort Saskatchewan AB

 

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