Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 21, 2016

Our final day in Paris before we all parted ways was amazing! We some fascinating areas of Paris, both on the Bateau Mouche, boat tour along the Seine River, as well as the First World War gallery at Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides, and Sacre Coeur and surroundings in Montmartre.

These past two weeks have been unbelievable! I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity to travel to Europe and to learn about the First and Second World Wars with 19 fascinating people (BVP scholars and chaperone-facilitators).

One hundred years ago, Canadian soldiers were dying on the battlefields across Belgium and France. Because of the 2016 BVP program, I have learned many things that I never could have learned otherwise and through a first-hand experience.

Watching the sun go down at the Vimy Memorial in France and feeling the waves crash against my legs at Juno Beach has made me so thankful for those brave souls who sacrificed so much in the name of our country. These experiences have made me proud of my heritage; I am so proud to be Canadian.

I honestly do not have the words to say what I am feeling at the moment, so I will end this blog post with a heartfelt thank you to everyone who made this experience possible and the words, “we will remember them.”

 – Emily Oakes, Gueph, Ontario


Now that I have been distanced by a few hours and a few thousand kilometres from the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize and my fellow scholars, I can say with certainty something that I expected all along: what happens in BVP doesn’t stay in BVP. It is doubtful that I will have the stamina to have such ferocious and intense passion for remembrance as I had for these two weeks, but that is okay: I simply must be able to ignite it and keep it burning whenever I start to feel far away from all of the brave men and women who fought and gave their lives for my country during the World Wars.

The BVP scholarship is history-focused, without a doubt. But it also has left me and my fellow scholars with a fantastic wealth of knowledge about the world that we live in today as well as inspiration for the future. The program may be over, but BVP isn’t, and therein lies the fundamental reason why BVP is so much more than just an educational trip to Europe.

– Abby Vadeboncoeur, Regina, Saskatchewan



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Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 20, 2016

After visiting and learning in three incredible countries, our program came to a close in the beautiful city of Paris. I come from the smallest province of Canada, Prince Edward Island, so it was almost surreal to be in such a large environment.

Our first excursion actually came as a surprise to us from the chaperones. We began a walk through the city, exploring the different landmarks. Finally Katy, our Education Coordinator stopped the group and asked us if we wanted to visit the Eiffel Tower. We replied “yes, of course!” and ended up spending the evening together climbing up to the second level of the Tower, enjoying the sights and lights looking down on beautiful Paris at night! Even though the program only had a day left, it felt as if time had stopped for a few hours so we could be together longer.

Our next stop was at the Musee de l’Armee where we were able to see a First World War and Second World War exhibit. Having seen different museums along the trip it was so interesting to see how the French remembered the war and how they wanted to present their history. In the Second World War exhibit there was a hallway that focused on deportation. It showed those people that had been sent to concentration camps and gave us a glimpse through photos and stories into what their life was like. I found this extremely sad and was moved by the tragedies they endured yet their perseverance through it all.

Finally,  I want to wrap up my little blog post with an enormous thank you to the coordinators, other participants and most of all the sponsors of the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize. This program taught me more then I could ever learn in a classroom, and instilled in me a strong passion for remembrance. I have visited amazing places, learned incredible things and met friends that will last a lifetime! Thank you so much!

– Hannah Hardy, Albany, Prince Edward Island 


It has been yet another lovely day in Paris and I cannot believe it is our last. After an amazing and scenic start to our day, we slowed things down with an evening walk in Montmartre, one of Paris’ distinct and beautiful neighbourhoods. While in Montmartre, we walked around the bustling shops and vendors and tried some classic Parisian sweets like crêpes, macarons, and – although this treat isn’t authentic to the country – I had the most amazing gelato! In the heart of the neighbourhood stood the beautiful Sacré-Cœur Basilica, a picturesque Roman Catholic Church. After walking down a small cobblestone path, my group and I found a balcony overlooking all of Paris and took the opportunity to take some pictures! On this final night, we were treated with a three course dinner that was accompanied with lots of laughs and reminiscing about memories of the program.

When we got back to the MIJE (our residence for the night), some fun activities awaited us! We first participated in an appreciation circle where each person shared a story or a comment which validated the two people sitting on either side of them. This activity lifted everyone’s mood and made us even closer. The night also consisted of a round of message-writing in everyone’s personalized booklet. This was very important as it gave us the opportunity to share a story or to show appreciation for each other for an amazing experience, “in writing” (this was quite emotional both literally and figuratively!) It was an emotional night, no doubt, but it provided us all with some much-needed closure from one of the best two weeks we had ever had.

My BVP blogging career has now come full circle ever since the time I wrote my very first blog on one of the first nights. I’m glad I’ve gotten to record some of our joyful memories and adventures, and tonight was truly a wonderful end to a wonderful trip.

– Haleh Zabihi, St. John’s, Newfoundland


Click here for photos from our Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Facebook album

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Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 19, 2016

Every year, I, like many students across Canada, participate in remembrance ceremonies at my school and in my city. In all that time, I have never had a more active role as I did during the three ceremonies we attended in and around the city of Dieppe commemorating the disastrous invasion attempt in 1942. I did not lay a wreath or read the promise of remembrance, but as a representative of the Vimy Foundation, Canada and the younger generations, I knew my presence represented a lot. And the response was overwhelmingly positive. After every ceremony, members of the public and distinguished guests came up to us. They asked about the Foundation and our trip, but they mostly expressed how happy they were to see us, the young, continue to remember those who came before us. We were even seen as important enough not only to stand an honour guard for the fallen the night before but to stand guard for the guests and participants as they entered the salle des Congrès for the reception.

And yet for me, what truly brought home the theme of the continuation of remembrance, was seeing my fellow participants. Listening to Andrew and Roseline read the Commitment to Remember in both official languages in a sea of adult voices. Watching two different participants place their wreaths at every ceremony among veterans and prominent guests. At one ceremony, a dozen children from the area placed flowers at the monuments we had gathered around. On their shoulders rest the responsibility of remembrance and the continuation of tradition. They are the ones who will attend ceremonies like these for years to come. After spending two weeks with some of them, I know we are in good hands.

– Sarah Verrault, London, Ontario


Click here for photos from the Dieppe ceremonies in our Beaverbrook Vimy Prize album.


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Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 18, 2016

Today was our last day in Normandy. We started the day off by visiting Longues-sur-mer where German bunkers lined the coast. We were able to get face to face with the tanks and guns they used and view the English Channel from which the allies approached the continent. When you compare the cliffs between Omaha and Utah beaches at Longues-sur-mer with the smooth even sands of Juno Beach it is not wonder that the Canadians made the furtherest advances in land on June 6th, 1944. The Allies and the Germans were fighting on more even  ground at Juno but looking out from the bunkers at Longues-sur-mer the challenge was evident for the Allies. The landscape allowed the Germans to hide well and wait patiently for the upcoming attack.

We then travelled to the Normandy American Cemetery and memorial at Omaha Beach. It was interesting to see the difference in an American cemetery compared with the other Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries we have seen throughout the program. We then travelled to Pointe-du-Hoc to see the monument erected by the French for the American Ranger commanders who scaled 110 ft cliffs to liberate the area. Shell craters dotted the landscape like the craters of the First World War we sat at Hill 60 and the Caterpillar on the Ypres Salient.

Upon our arrival in Dieppe we commemorated a soldier at the Canadian cemetery and this evening attended a special vigil on the eve of the 74th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid in 1942. Participating in this vigil was very special for everyone. We were given the honour of being part of a special honour guard. I was taken aback by how well Canadians were being honoured tonight through the waving of flags and how welcomed we felt as honoured guests. I think that the attendees were proud to see youth partake in our shared history.

– Jane Harkness, Virden, MB


Click here to view photos from the 2016 Beaverbrook Vimy Prize program.

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Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 17, 2016

Similar to my experience at Vimy Ridge, Juno Beach was a unique and humbling experience. Building off of the success of the First World War, Canada was given increasingly important responsibilities climaxing with the contributions of Canadians in the landings on Juno Beach. It was truly humbling to walk along the sand that Canada had been trusted by the world to take; the sand that hundreds of Canadians had fallen on. Yet walking across the sand was strangely peaceful.

Meeting the locals and taking in the beauty of the area, it was to believe that a major battle was once fought here. The trenches, bunkers, beaches, mulberries in the harbour, all made for a sobering and meaningful experience.

– Adam Labrash, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan


A moment that stood out to me today was visiting the Abbaye D’Ardennes. Hearing the tragic story about what happened there (the interrogation and execution of Canadian POWs) was shocking and emotional for everyone. What really made me think was the garden that now stand in the place where the executions happened. I found it really difficult to reconcile the current beauty of the place with its horrific past.

Another interesting moment was visiting the Beny-sur-mer cemetery because we were able to see how the epitaphs for the First and Second World Wars are different. What I found very interesting was how so many of the Second World War epitaphs were more personal, with fewer religious references, and often stated who had chosen the epitaph. This made me think about who headstones are really for. The deceased, or those they left behind. I also wondered about why the shift towards personal, familial epitaphs occurred. I’ve enjoyed this program so much and I am dreading the fact that it is coming to an end.

– Sabrina Ashgar, Northwood, Middlesex, UK


Please click here to view photos from the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize program 2016.

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Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 16, 2016

Today I finally had the opportunity to commemorate my soldier, Private Henri Cariou, at his final resting place in Aulnoy, France. I knew it would be an emotional experience, but as I stood by his gravestone in a foreign town I came to a realization. I chose Henri because he came from the same place I do. He looked out at the golden prairies, cut by sharp blue sky, and saw home just like I do. He felt the bitter winter cold and the first summer sun, that warms you right to the bones. That is what we have common, not a stone in France.

Having done this research, I know that Private Cariou will forever be in my heart. I am incredibly happy to have been able to have visited his grave, but I am not convinced that it is where his spirit lingers.

– Abby Vadeboncoeur, Emerald Park, Saskatchewan


When we visit cemeteries and memorials and battlefields it feels natural to change mindsets from one of having fun amongst friends to one of respect and solemnity. Yet, when that battlefield is in a public place normally associated with joy, should we treat it the same way?  In June 1944, 340 men lost their lives, 574 were wounded and 47 were captured during the Battle of Normandy at Juno Beach. Today, without knowing, we walked on the very same beach. Some walked into the water and others like me, watched them laugh and enjoy themselves. It wasn’t until we began to leave did our chaperone-facilitators point out where we were. Right at the landing spot of the Queen’s Own Rifles Regiment on June 6, 1944. The first battalion to meet their beach objective.

Today, there are probably still remnants of the horrors of the battle and a couple played with their dogs. Anywhere else that paradox would seem inappropriate, but when a war is as all encompassing as the First and Second World Wars, here in France, how do we decide what is a site of remembrance,  pocket in time, and what sites should be allowed to continue to evolve? Where can we laugh without guilt or must we always be solemn? Or can it change, like most things with time and place?

– Sarah Verrault, London, Ontario


Click here for photos from the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Facebook album.

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Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 15, 2016

Throughout this trip, I’ve always been asking myself: what is the significance of my visits to all the cemeteries and monuments? A week into the program, I’ve been piecing together the answers; however, today, I’ve found an important piece to the puzzle.

This afternoon, we visited the Ontario Cemetery near the French city of Arras, where my soldier is buried at. My soldier, Joseph Bernard Hill, was from the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. My choice of a First Nations soldier was inspired by writing about their contributions in the application essay. Since starting my research a few months ago, I went on a journey through Joseph’s life, and now, he seems like a friend to me.

Being a minority myself, I believe that it is especially important to recognize the contributions of people like Joseph. Standing beside Joseph’s headstone, I talked about how his enlistment and sacrifices had resulted in positive lasting impacts to his community and to Canada, and that he inspires me to always put in my best efforts, and make lasting impacts to my surroundings, too. After the tribute, I did a rubbing of his headstone, which I plan to donate to his community after I return to Canada. One of our chaperones, Paul, also made a rubbing to show to his students back in Canada. I feel proud and honoured at the same time to be able to pay tribute to Joseph, whose life was short but well-lived.

Joseph is also an inspiration to me. He had overcame negative stereotypes on his people and a difficult childhood to serve for Canada. Now, empowered by the BVP journey, I have embarked on a journey to raise awareness on the importance of minorities to the Canadian society, both historically and present. Today was just the first step.

– Andrew Yin, Richmond Hill, Ontario


Some of the most memorable moments today for me were getting to commemorate my soldier Arthur William Bull and visiting the Neuve Chapelle Indian Memorial. This opportunity allowed me to see how countries within the British empire were commemorated with cultural and religious symbolism.

Throughout the visits to the cemeteries in Belgium and France I have been collecting photographs of interesting epitaphs. One of my favourites is one that I stumbled upon almost by accident. I only took a photograph of it because the epitaph was in Welsh. It was an epitaph of a soldier of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. It translated to “We lived to die. We died to live.”  I found it incredibly interesting to see how his friends and family wanted him to be remembered as someone whose purpose in life was to give up his life, and that they viewed his death as a vessel for freedom. Another epitaph which I found interesting said “He died for the Empire” because of the political element of the epitaph, and the protective and proud attitude toward the British empire.

I’m so grateful for the experiences I have had so far on this program and I am excited to see the epitaphs to come over the next few days.

– Sabrina Ashgar, Northwood, Middlesex, Great Britain


Click here for photos from the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize 2016 program. 

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Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 14, 2016

During this program, I have carried various objects around with me that in a sense were weighing me down. Yet, today the feeling of weight came from an overwhelming sense of loss, pain, grief, and sorrow. As I sat on the steps of the Vimy Memorial and looked across the landscape, all I kept seeing was my hometown hero losing his life over and over, the imagery hitting me like a ton of bricks. When visiting A. J. McDougall’s gravestone at La Chaudiere cemetery today, surrounded by the participants of the program, I still felt alone, as if I was talking only to A.J . and no one else was there. The conversation felt like it was about the lake that borders our homes (in the language of our ancestors, gaelic). It was a very full-circle moment for me and for a lack of a better word “real.” A.J. is the reason I am here in so many ways. I will always have a sense of gratitude for his contributions to the war effort.

– Zoe McDaniel, Brook Village, Nova Scotia


Today, after a full week of wearing jackets depicting the Vimy monument on the back and hearing of its magnificence, we had the pleasure of seeing Vimy ridge. One thing that I have realized over the course of this program is that a monument only has as much meaning as you give to it. Needless to say, today there was a shared understanding of it among all of us. While we wandered around the memorial, most of us for the first time, there was reflective and sombre silence; not only among our group, but amongst the other groups and individuals admiring and wandering the monument.

While it is undeniable that the monument is impressive in its dimensions, the true wonder of the piece lies in the sculpture itself. I found myself overtaken by the brilliance and skill of the carving: in seconds, every metaphor that has ever pitted stone and emotion against each other as opposites was disproved. I have never appreciate sculpture in any real capacity before. However, in the moments that I first saw Vimy, it seemed like the only real way to capture what it means to be human.

If I had to choose one takeaway from this program to share, it is however much you’re told you have to see the battlefield to understand, there is no complete understanding. The farms and forests and magnificent stone memorials are a juxtaposition to what existed 100 years ago. I think that in many ways you have to be here to fully understand the hardship. It is possible, however, to learn empathy by taking the time to connect to the stories of soldiers. This program has been a fantastic motivator of empathy, and I’m happy to be here with such a fantastic group of people to experience it.

– Abby Vadeboncoeur, Emerald Park, Saskatchewan


Today we completed our pilgrimage to Vimy Ridge.  The fog that initially shrouded the memorial burned off gradually through our time spent there allowing us to experience a ghostly atmosphere with the memorial nearly indistinguishable from the ominous fog which blanketed the sight; this prompted me to think of the massive loss that was necessitated to capture the ridge. The sun rose higher and more of the structure revealed itself, eventually resulting in the memorial standing impossibly strong amidst a brilliantly blue sky. For me, this scene personified the tenacity of four united Canadian divisions and their unwillingness to concede. I feel fortunate to have been able to appreciate such a duality. Furthermore, the similarity between our group, a contingent of youth from across the great country of Canada, and the group of equally diverse Canadians who stormed the ridge 99 years ago, was not lost upon me. I believe we all gained something truly invaluable while we contemplated the significance of what we were experiencing.

To run one’s hand over a sea of Canadian heroes, whose names have been immortalized in stone, evokes a sense of pride in one’s country that is daunting to translate into words. Vimy Ridge is the conception of one architect and a group of sculptures but it is ultimately the blood of Canadians that holds the structure together. Never before in my life have I felt so explicitly connected to my Canadian identity, a moment which will live in infamy within me.

– Owen Martin, St. John’s, Newfoundland


Click here to view photos from our Beaverbrook Vimy Prize album.

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Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 13, 2016

Today our group as a whole felt a communal sense of loss when stopping to commemorate soldiers at various memorials today. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to a personal tribute given to honour a soldier and not be emotionally moved by the experience.

We also had the once in a lifetime opportunity to go down into the Maison Blanche souterraine (tunnels) along with the Durand Group, who are internationally recognized experts in First World War tunnels. Under the ground, we learned about the lives and experiences of Canadian soldiers in the lead up to the Battle for Vimy Ridge through our viewing of drawings, graffiti and carvings done by the soldiers. The entire day was filled with bonding experiences; some that made me laugh and others that made me cry. I’ve never felt so blessed to be in the presence of such brilliant and inspirational people.

– Zoe McDaniel, Brook Village, Nova Scotia


Click here for photos from the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize on our Facebook album.

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Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 12, 2016

Our experience in Belgium was jam-packed with First World War history. From large cemeteries to extraordinary memorials, to seeing a collection of artifacts found in local fields, the day was full of new sights and experiences! One of the stops that stood out to me the most was the church in Messines. It had originally been built in the 11th century, but it was destroyed by artillery fire during the First World War. Before it was destroyed though, the people of the village removed all of the artifacts to ensure they weren’t damaged, and later on put them back when it was rebuilt. What is even more interesting is that before it was destroyed, it was used as a hospital for the German army. It is rumoured that Hitler was treated in the crypt, just a few hundred metres from the British front where future British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was stationed.

The feeling of walking among the very same places that First World War soldiers fought is completely unique and surreal for me. The fact that most of the region isn’t more than ninety years old is hard to comprehend. Even the sheer number of cemeteries found on the Ypres salient is very shocking to me. I look forward to continuing our journey of seeing First and Second World War battle sites for the remainder of the program.

– Graham Devitt, St. Catharines, Ontario

Click here for photos from Belgium on our Facebook album

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