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.