On the first day of the Battle of Arras, April 9, 1917, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps came together and scored a great tactical victory with the capture of Vimy Ridge. Because of this, and its location at the highest point overlooking the Douai Plain, this site was chosen as the place to build a memorial to all the Canadians who served in battles in the Great War, and particularly to the 60,000 who gave their lives in France.
Designed by Canadian sculptor, Walter Seymour Allard, the memorial was unveiled in July 1936 after taking 11 years to build. The memorial rests on a foundation of about 11,000 tonnes of concrete which is then reinforced with hundreds of tonnes of steel. The two pylons that rise up with carved figures contain almost 6,000 tonnes of limestone, with the figures being carved from huge blocks of stone where they stand. To help the carvers create their masterpieces the figures were first constructed as half-size plaster models which now reside in Regeneration Hall at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
There is much symbolism in the memorial with the two great pylons said to represent Canada and France- two nations united to fight for the common goal of peace and freedom for Allied nations. They are also considered to be twin sentinels guarding a peaceful world, or a gateway to a better world where peace prevails.
Several carved figures, or groups of figures, are on the pylons and at the base. The two groups of figures on either side of the base by the stairs are called the Defenders. On the left side (facing the memorial) is the Breaking of the Sword, and on the right is Sympathy for the Helpless. The other figures all along the pylons reaching up to the top are statues meant to represent Peace, Truth, Knowledge, Gallantry, Sympathy, and Justice which is at the highest point. Around them are the shields of Canada, Britain, and France. Finally there are also figures meant to represent mourners with one sorrowing figure of a woman that represents Canada, a young nation mourning her dead.
Along with the names of 11,285 names of Canadian servicemen who died in France with no known grave, there is also an inscription on the monument that reads-
To the valour of their Countrymen in the Great War and in memory of their sixty thousand dead this monument is raised by the people of Canada.
In December 1922 the French Government granted the large area of land that the memorial rests on to the Canadian people in perpetuity. The French Government did ask that the land only be used and maintained as a memorial park to commemorate Canada’s war dead of the Great War and it remains such today. In addition to the monument the surrounding area is also covered with wartime tunnels and trenches. Some of these are closed off due for safety due to undetonated explosives (which you will see signs for all around), but some are preserved for the public to visit. Although visitors will be accommodated on tours of the trenches if there is space, it is best to pre-book by calling the Vimy Office.
In April 1997 Vimy Ridge was designated as a Canadian National Historic Site– one of only two sites outside Canada.
Open daily from 0900 to 1700, except Monday open 1100 to 1700.
Address: Chemin de Canadiens (Route D55), 62580 Vimy, France
Parking: There is ample parking at the site for cars and coaches. ||There are also public toilets available at the site.
To make reservations for the trenches, please call Veteran Affairs Canada at +33 (0) 3 21 50 68 68 (from Europe) or 011 33 3 21 50 68 68 (from Canada & US)
Canadian War Cemetery No.2, Neuville-St. Vaast
In addition to the more than 11,000 names inscribed on the memorial for those with no known resting place, there are more than 7,000 casualties buried in 30 war cemeteries within a 20 km radius of the monument. We visited one of those cemeteries after our stop at the monument- the Canadian War Cemetery No.2, Neuville-St. Vaast.
Located within the Canadian National Vimy Memorial Park, the entrance to the cemetery is sign posted on the road from Arras to Lens (Route N17). The cemetery was established by the Canadian Corps after the storming of Vimy Ridge in 1917 with some of the soldiers in the cemetery falling during that battle, or later from wounds received there. The majority of the 3,000 graves are from soldiers recovered from surrounding battlefields. There are 820 identified casualties resting in this cemetery.
Designed with the same elements of other Commonwealth cemeteries it is also enclosed with a low stone wall. If you arrive on a clear day you can just make out the tops of the chapel and Lantern Tower at Notre Dame de Lorette when standing at the gate looking northwest through the cemetery. Unfortunately on the day we were there it was quite overcast so we didn’t see that but we did see the groundskeepers working hard to maintain the cemetery in its pristine condition (and they saw themselves in my Instragram photo!). As with all the Commonwealth cemeteries we’ve visited through France and Belgium, this one was just as peaceful and a nice place to stop for a few moments of reflection.
Further Visitor Information:
In addition to the memorial and cemetery there is also a Welcome Center in the Vimy Memorial Park. It is administered by Veteran Affairs Canada and provides information about the Battle of Vimy Ridge through maps, photographs, military and personal artifacts.