VPA 2024 Recipient Blogs

Date published:

April 3, 2024

April 3

The 20 young VPA 2024 recipients arrived in Belgium today. Here begins their 7 day journey across Europe where they will spend time visiting cemeteries, museums, battlefields and commemorative sites from the First World War.

On this first day, the students were able to visit the Historial de la Grande Guerre Museum. We also asked each of the 20 students which site they were looking forward to the most during their 7 day journey through France and Belgium.

Abby Welshman; Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial – It is a wonderful and beautiful monument, which I am personally excited to see because I was born and grew up in Newfoundland. I believe that Beaumont-Hamel contributes to the act of remembrance because to me as a Newfoundlander myself, it is a commemoration that allows us to memorialize our soldiers, their experiences and remember their sacrifices.

Yehia Ayad; Canadian National Vimy Memorial – Not only is it an architectural marvel, hailing over 11,985 commemorated soldiers. It is a testament to the grandeur of the sacrifices and casualties fought for the freedom and peace of today. Through carrying the names of many, including my selected soldier, it is immortalizing the lives of those who faced the ultimate sacrifice. Rather than grouping the collective of past soldiers, this memorial truly emphasizes that behind every shell-shocked face was someone who went missing on the warfront.

Finn Conway; Menin Gate – I am looking forward to visiting this site because it relates to my soldier’s presentation. Many of the soldiers commemorated on the Menin Gate were Missing In Action (M.I.A.) or could not be identified. This site is significant and should continue to be remembered because these soldiers cannot be commemorated individually elsewhere.

Becky Chen; Canadian National Vimy Memorial – I am looking forward to seeing this memorial as I was always curious that this symbol of Canada was placed on our $20 bill. I also realized that this symbol is in our passports. I believe that it is important to remember this memorial as it has become such a vital Canadian symbol. 

Brett English; Historial de la Grande Guerre – I am very interested in military history as am excited to visit this museum as it showcases many artefacts and uniforms which are on display. These artefacts reflect the stories of those who wore them and it is the details in these pieces that I think are incredibly important to preserve. Museums are places of memory and important sites of preservation.

Rose Mathewson-Yehia; Menin Gate – It is a beautiful monument, in terms of architecture and meaning. The Menin Gate showcases the names of soldiers who went missing during battle. I think it is paramount to remember those who do not have a grave. This space of memory offers a place for the families of those soldiers and for others to remember them.

Fifi Chen; Canadian National Vimy Memorial – I am excited to visit this site as there will be a lot of unique history and interesting facts. Also, so we can learn about people who’ve made a good difference and sacrifice. I think we should care about this site since many soldiers are remembered there and they deserve to be remembered as they helped serve our country.

Hana Hutchinson; Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery - I am looking forward to visiting this cemetery because it is the location where a soldier from my home community is buried. During our time at the cemetery, I will honour him and share about this young soldier's life. The Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery is the second largest Commonwealth cemetery with 10,786 soldiers buried here. Cemeteries provide us with a place to remember.

Danielle Bilozaze-Lewis; Menin Gate – I am looking forward to seeing this site because it has been a key place of remembrance in my readings and research. I feel that the Menin Gate is important in practicing remembering those who have fought in the First World War.

Rohan Sylvain; Canadian National Vimy Memorial – I am most excited to see this memorial because it is the site of the most prominent Canadian battle in the Great War. It allows us to remember and commemorate all of the fallen by recognizing each one of them. It is also very important in the founding of Canada. 

Austin Kozlowski; Canadian National Vimy Memorial – This site was an opportunity for Canadians to showcase their strength and resilience on the warfront. While researching this memorial, it was interesting to me to see that many individuals had different mindsets going into battle; some were ready to fight, whereas others had been worn down from the war already. This site is important to remember because it’s a symbolization of history in which if we do not learn from the past then we might be doomed to repeat it.

Jan Nasibog; Ring of Remembrance – This site displays every single name of those who have lost their lives in Northern France in the First World War. 100+ years from now, these names will be immortalized forever to be displayed for future generations to look back upon. It is also an example of the effects of war as every single name inscribed displays someone that had a life. I am looking forward to seeing this site as it commemorates thousands of soldiers that I will be able to see in person and visually take in its effects. 

Sebastian Thomas-Harvey; Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial - For both school and this program, I’ve done a few projects about the Royal Newfoundland Regiment that is also my soldier’s battalion. I'm really interested in seeing the place that comes up so often and that is so significant in the commemoration of this regiment. The memorial site is so important because it stands directly in the place where the Battle of the Somme first started. 

Sarah Abai; In Flanders Field Museum – This museum is filled with a lot of very specific information about wars that can be translated into situations in our world today as our political climate is unsure. As the museum is located in Ypres, I believe that this museum is important as it is located and was affected by the First World War and the original building itself.

Kaiya Leah Schade; Zivy Crater – This site remembers women on the frontlines which are often forgotten and left out of our history books. The First World War was a pivotal time for women’s rights which is essential to remember when advocating for gender equity.

Namirembe Afatsawo; In Flander’s Field Museum – Knowledge about the past helps us understand the present and better shape our future. I enjoy analyzing how history affects our future and so I am looking forward to visiting this museum to get a better visualization of the First World War. To see is to believe, having history museums present is a physical reminder of our past that we will hopefully not forget to commemorate

Himanshu Surukanti; Canadian National Vimy Memorial – This site is incredibly interesting for me for many reasons: the architecture interests me; the scale, the statues, the names as well as the composition of the statues; weeping, mourning, passing the torch...etc. These qualities are highly evocative and represent the loss of the Great War. The memorial in particular is so important because it represents a symbol of nation-building for Canada and sits on the site of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Léa Guénette; Zivy Crater – Les femmes méritent autant de reconnaissance que les hommes. Alors je trouve intéressant qu’elles aient un monument pour les représenter. Les femmes sont souvent oubliées dans l’histoire des guerres. Lorsqu’on pense à la Première Guerre mondiale, on ne pense pas directement au travail des femmes, mais plutôt aux soldats. Un site comme celui du cratère permet de reconnaître le travail des femmes pour ne pas qu’elles restent dans l’ombre.

Muhammad Ali Naseer; Canadian National Vimy Memorial – It excites me to visit a cornerstone of Canadian history. Seeing the visual representation of the battlefront which the memorial sits on showcases the larger picture of war as well as the individual lives of the soldiers themselves. The Battle of Vimy Ridge shows the overall importance of Canada’s role and demonstrates the magnitude of the war.

Neveah Swamidas; Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial – I am excited to visit this site as Newfoundlanders fought there and I am a resident of Newfoundland. I think it is an important site because everyone deserves to be remembered.

April 4

On the second day of VPA 2024, the students visited several sites including the the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, the Thiepval Memorial, and the Villers-Bretonneux Australian National Memorial.

The students have alse begun to share their daily reflections starting today with Abby, Sebastian, and Nevaeh.

Abby Welshman, Mount Moriah, Newfoundland

Today, on the 4th of April, we began our day visiting Cantigny American Memorial. This memorial is dedicated to those who fought in the American First Division, who were the first to shed blood in the First World War. At this memorial we had the privilege to hear Jan Nasibog present their “bringing them home” presentation. Hearing their biography and poem on Tomás Mateo Claudio, was eye opening and truly moving. A line within this poem which moved me was, “But even time passes, and reds, whites, and blues look the same eventually”.

Our second stop on our day was the Australian Memorial and museum. Climbing the tower, visiting the cemetery and seeing the beautiful, yet daunting memories this museum holds was a highlight in my day. This museum holds so much information and stories ready to be shared.

We next stopped at a British Cemetery, where Sebastian Thomas-Harvey presented his presentation. Hearing about the past of a fellow newfoundlander and seeing someone from outside of Newfoundland recognizing his sacrifice was beautiful and truly moving for me.

Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial was an eye opening and heartfelt experience for me, coming from Newfoundland. Seeing the trenches and having the opportunity to truly visualize the brutality these brave men faced was unsettling however very educational. It was at this memorial I had the opportunity to present my “bringing them home” presentation on Private George Abbott. As someone who has difficulty with public speaking, I felt more comfortable doing this presentation knowing it was for him. Finding his name on the Caribou, Beaumont Hamel Memorial was a moment of realization. I now feel as if I know this man, who’s life was lost, however I am happy to be part of the reason, it will not be forgotten.

Our final stop of the day was Thiepval Memorial, dedicated to the British whose bodies were not found after the Battle of the Somme, the bloodiest battle of the First World War. This was a memorial larger than most could imagine and the walls carried more names then one could count. Here, I also had the opportunity to present my field presentation with Becky Chen and Rose Mathewson-Yehia, on the topic of How Societies Remember the War. Focusing on Canadian Societies we spoke on those from the Francophone, Anglophone, Asian, Black, Indigenous communities and the British for respect of the memorial. Having the opportunity to share these lessons we had through researching and reflecting on our own communities, was wonderful. There was many questions towards the end showing the other participants of the VPA were engaged in our topic and gave us even more to reflect on. Also at this memorial, what I learned through Sean was both the French and British are put to rest together in the same cemetery, symbolizing a sense of unity beyond differences.

I am beyond grateful for today and the lessons involved and am looking forward to the rest of this journey through our past.

Abby also shared a poem that she read at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial

‘Bringing Them Home’: George Abbott - Reflection

A boy born and raised in Newfoundland down by the shore,

Where he once stood, I've also stood before.

He is a brave young man more than we could ever know,

He stood for Newfoundland during one of the world's all-time lows.

When called to war, he stood without hesitation,

Knowing he had to stand strongly to protect our dear nation.

He and his brother were early to enlist,

To fight with the British during a time of crisis.

Training began down at Quidi Vidi Lake,

Practicing to ensure our regiment could not break.

Until, saying goodbye to his mother and father,

And the rest of his parents' sons and daughters.

Becoming a part of history as he set sail on the seas,

Taking the step forward with the blue puttees.

His regiment assigned from place to place,

Yet he stood strong with no fear on his face.

After overcoming frostbite and so much more,

This strong soldier still returned to war.

However, he was faced with the battle of the Somme,

And this battle led to the worst outcome.

On July first, 1916,

This was the last day George Abbott was ever seen,

He and his brother gone forever more,

The two young boys who grew up on the Newfoundland shore.

He was a boy enlisted at the age of twenty-two,

Just imagine this if it were me or if it was you.

He fought and died to make a brighter future for us,

Yet how little now is his name discussed.

There is no way to ever thank him for what he's done,

However, through the Vimy Program, we might have begun.

We must pass on his name and story; it's time to share it,

He was the brave young man by the name of George Abbott.

Nevaeh Swamidas, St. John's, Newfoudland

Today is April 4, our first full day of visiting historical sites. The first site we saw today was the “Cantigny American Memorial” for a presentation. After the presentation we went to the “Villers Bretonneux Australian Memorial” it was one of my favourite places. There were interactive videos that captured the harsh reality of what the soldiers lived through in the First World War. There was an immersive experience that was very intense, it was an emotional and moving experience that went in-depth about feelings and living conditions. Then we went to the “Ancre British Cemetery” for a second presentation. The fourth place we went was also one of my favorite places. We went to the “Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial”, it means a lot to me because I am from Newfoundland and it is my hometowns history. I learned so many new and interesting things that I found fascinating. There was also a presentation at the site. The final site we went to was the “Thiepval Memorial” which commemorates the missing soldiers from the First World War. There was one last presentation at the memorial, it was an amazing experience. On the bus rides we all had a lot of fun. We were talking and getting to know each other and playing games like charades and trivia. Today was an eventful and educational day. I loved learning new and different information from all the intriguing, historical sites. I am so grateful I get to experience this information in an incredible way and meet amazing people.

Sebastian Thomas-Harvey, Ottawa, Ontario

Today, we took a trip through the picturesque countryside of Somme, France. Our first stop was at the Sir John Monash Center, a sleek museum that combined artifacts with modern technology to tell the story of Australian servicemen and women who served in the First World War. I had no idea about the extent of Australian involvement in the war, and the well designed experience was very insightful. The museum was built right beside the Villers Bretonneux Military Cemetery, and I tried to reflect about the lives of the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice here in France.

Then, it was time for my soldier presentation. We took a short bus trip to the Ancre British Cemetery, the place of rest of Edward Rozier Winter. There, I told the story of a boy named Edward, a private in the Newfoundland Regiment who enlisted at the age of only 16 years old, and lost his life only two years later. He had a large family with nine other siblings, so his death would’ve had a large impact on a lot of other people. I found that it’s almost overwhelming to think that so many people suffered from the war, from the soldiers who fought on the frontlines to their families back at home. Each gravestone is not just a name, or even a human life, but a story that is a keystone in multiple other people’s stories. Before this program, I knew of the numbers, but visualizing the war like this brings a whole new scale to the event. I also had the chance to make a charcoal rubbing of the grave afterwards, which was incredibly touching, and an experience I’ll never forget.

Our next destination was the Beaumont Hamel memorial, dedicated to commemorating the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. We were fortunate to have an amazing guide who explained the events of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, on July 1st 1916. We learned about the strategies used in the battle, and had the chance to walk in the soldiers footsteps, literally. The undulating terrain, with deep divots and zig-zagging trenches served as a constant reminder of the violent origins of this peaceful grassy countryside.

We finished the day with a group presentation at the Thiepval memorial. They explained how different cultures experienced and remembered war. Sean pushed us to explore the theme of memory and memorialization. I feel that today I gained just a little bit more perspective on a variety of different subjects. Can’t wait for tomorrow!

April 5

On the thrid day of the VPA program, the recipients visited a number of cemeteries including the Tilloy-lez-Cambrai Cemetery, La Chapelette British and Indian cemetery, and the Delsaux Farm Cemetery. The students also spent time at the Deville Wood South African National Memorial.

Austin Kozlowski, Pembroke, Ontario

Today, I embarked on a personal pilgrimage journey as we visited cemeteries like the Tilloy-lez-Cambrai Cemetery (where I presented my soldier), and memorials such as Deville Wood and Menin Gate.

I woke to the sound of birds chirping as the quiet hours of the night came to an end and the beautiful street across from our hostel started to glow as the sun rose. The views from our balcony were breathtaking. The early morning risings and hot chocolate in France are nothing like I’ve ever experienced in Canada.  

We began our day with discussions about the role of people of colour from Africa in the First World War and how their roles were interpreted by the three main colonial powers; the French, the British and the Germans. It was a great change of pace to sit down and discuss the Western Front and how they implicated their colonies in the war. I’ve never learned about how the First World War affected Africa in school and was very curious while Thomas was teaching us about the long neglected stories of the destroyed villages. In my opinion, it felt as though Africa, in a way, was re-colonized and their hardships became even more exponential. As major empires were strict on controlling how their colonized groups interacted with each other and argued within themselves, they did not give the colonized people any choice for themselves. They had no option to choose whether or not they wanted to die for an empire that colonized and rejected their culture. I was not impressed by the actions that occurred in the past that were enacted by racial motivations from Empirical colonizers.

We then went to the Delsaux Farm Cemetery where Construction No.02 Battalion Private V. Carvery lies and presented our group presentation in front of his gravestone. I greatly enjoyed this project because as a non-person of colour, I better understood the perspectives of Black men and learning about their hardships throughout the war. Understanding being someone else’s shoes and how they were not they properly commemorated afterwards helped me better explore the subjects like “equity versus equality in death” while visiting commonwealth graves. I was intrigued learning about the colonialism that occurred for people of colour during the “white man’s war”

My favourite part of the day was presenting the soldier I chose to commemorate. I related a lot to Lt. John Stanley Reaume as we both play rugby, are interested in medicine and are gunners in the Canadian forces. I related greatly to him and couldn’t help to think about how, without this program, he would not have been commemorated. My future and efforts may not be in vain but will like his, eventually be forgotten as the world moved on as he laid to rest and will stay forever young lost in a foreign land.

When I think of his life, the quote “Blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb” comes to mind as he was loyal to his brothers in arms and chose to fight beside them to the end. Although the option of choosing brothers in arms over family is frowned upon (past and present), it was clear to me that Lt. Reaume made an honourable choice and died on the frontlines with his brothers in arms.

Overall, the day was an opportunity for me to explore subjects such as minority representation in the First World War and bring to life my soldier’s stories – which aren’t experiences I get to participate in back home in Canada.

Becky Chen, Richmond Hill, Ontario

Today is April 5th, halfway through the program! As we left our hotel in Péronne and moved towards Ypres, I wondered if I would ever step back into the same city, if this would be the last time I stepped foot onto that piece of land. Yet, I still left with a sense of happiness, a sense that I was able to receive the opportunity to even visit such a small city.

Continuing the day, we made our first stop at the Chapelette British and Indian cemetery. Unfortunately, I found that a lot of these passed veterans were not remembered through their religious practices. Although these graves are all the same and intended to represent « Equality in Death » they are inequitable. Despite this fact, I still walked away with a sense of peace knowing that today, even the people of colour who served in the war, are receiving the respect and acknowledgement  they deserve.

After this short visit, we were able to receive the opportunity in learning about colonialism in Africa from one of our deeply educated chaperones, Thomas. Not only was I never educated on the Africans during the First World War but Thomas made the lecture feel intense and memorable. His use of pictures and activités allowed us to further understand the content while also being mindful and respectful. This information will definitely be something I am taking home to teach my own history teacher :)

Coming out of that lecture was daunting, knowing that many Africans were treated poorly at that time, and while this continued to stew…the information got heavier as the group received a presentation from Austin K., Hana H., Muhammad N. and Namirembe A., about the No. 2 Construction Corps. Each member of the group brought out their own sense of individuality with their own type of address to the Construction Corps.

Finally, we made our last stop at Menin Gate where we received an exclusive tour from a Commonwealth war grave director. Ruel, was an amazing tour guide who really helped me better understand the Second Battle of Ypres.

I am truly happy to have received this amazing opportunity and to be able to stand here today representing the province of Ontario as well as the Asian community. I hope to continue to learn more on this trip and bring it home to teach my community about the great sacrifices during the First World War.

Thank you VPA for being a great outlet for highschool students and helping us better understand the world!

Muhammad Ali Naseer,Cambridge, Ontario

The day began with a visit to a British Indian cemetery. This brief moment impacted my overall impression of the day. Owing to the fact that seeing names like “Muhammad” and “Ali” are part of my own moved me in a most emotional way. I remembered that these soldiers all had mothers, fathers, and siblings that all called them the same name. Moreover, I realized that their background connected with me ethnically as my heritage, being Pakistani, was derived from the muslim population of India and these soldiers were from that demographic. Having this connection furthered my emotional empathy of the soldiers who participated in the war as they were some that lived lives exactly like me. After this, we traversed to the gravesite of a soldier, Private V Carvery, in the No 2 Construction Battalion, the only all black militia unit in the Canadian expeditionary force. Austin, Hana, Namirembe, and I presented our findings and displayed the contributions of the battalion, constructing bridges, roads, and crucial infrastructure in the critical war on the Western Front. We also talked about their struggles in joining the war and the opposition they faced through that journey, including the pervasive systametic racism that was a defining trait of the time; enduring phrases like “it’s a white man’s war.” Their efforts however were lost to history as documents and recollections of the group were scarce in number as historians ignored their story in favor of more grander, and combat focused units. It was deeply troubling to see a part of Canadian history so crucial in the fight against these racist ideologies forgotten with so little appreciation. The travel to Belgium was exciting and intriguing as we learned more about the Menin gate in Ypres. With that, the day came to an end as we ate dinner and settled down into our rooms. I realized there's so much more to history than what we usually hear about, reminding me of the enduring importance of honoring and preserving diverse narratives in the tapestry of human experience.

Sarah, Abai, Toronto, Ontario

This morning we started the day with a trip to the Chapelette British and Indian Cemetery. Here we were able to learn about how much the indigenous peoples contributed to the First World War even while they were being discriminated against. I think it is very important to be able to see how these marginalized communities were commemorated. This visit and discussion about the cemetery was an amazing way to try and get a grasp on how they were treated both during and after the war.

After that we visited the South African Memorial which was dedicated to the South Africans that fought for France. While we were there we got to learn about the brutality the South Africans faced and spent some time analyzing how they were perceived by their white counterparts. I found this discussion to be very helpful in truly bringing the ideals and issues of the First World War for people of colour and learning about inequality between soldiers of different races.

After that, we arrived at the Bailleul Road West Cemetery where we were able to listen to Austin’s “bringing them home” presentation. The writing was insightful and really shed a light on how every soldier had something to lose by joining the First World War. Every life lost is a testament to their selflessness and bravery and it was an honor to be able to be a part of commemorating the soldiers who were buried there.

Our next stop was the Delsaux Farm Cemetery, which was our first stop in Belgium. This is where we were able to listen to an amazing group presentation about the contributions of the No.2 Construction Battalion. This was the highlight of my day. The presentation was amazing and being able to learn about Afro-Canadians war efforts meant a lot to me as an Afro-Canadian myself. I learned a lot about how they fought for the right to have their own battalion and how they showed that they were capable at every opportunity given to them..

Our last stop was the Menin Gate memorial where Finn, Danni, and I were able to share our “Bringing them home” presentations on our chosen soldiers. Being able to hear and present about these soldiers whose stories were all interwoven in one way or another really gave me a sense of peace and compassion. It was a day full of thoughtful moments and I am so grateful to be able to share it with all  my new found friends!  

April 6

On the fourth day of the Vimy Pilgrimage Award 2024 program. The students were in Ypres, Belgium where they had the chance to visit a number of sites such as the Poelcapelle British Cemetery, and the Saint Julien Canadian Memorial. In the evening the students also participated in the Menin Gate Ceremony where they laid a wreath and had the chance to speak with the Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, and members of the Rainbow Veterans of Canada.

Rose Mathewson-Yehia, Vancouver, British Columbia

Today, April 6th, was by far the most eye opening and eventful day of the program for me to date. To start off our day, we visited Hill 60. Our amazing guide Kim provided in-depth insight about this battle, in particular the often lesser known stories of “Sappers”, or tunnellers. We learned about the dismally cramped conditions in which these men dug and the horrifying dangers they encountered, such as tunnel collapses and suffocation. We were also able to observe the huge craters left over from mine explosions; the sheer size of them was mind boggling. We were then able to enjoy an insightful presentation on the environmental impacts of the First World War by Jan Nasibog, Sebastian Thomas-Harvey, Fifi Chen and Himanshu Surukanti. I appreciated being able to learn more about a facet of the war that I had not yet learnt about.We then visited the Poelcapelle British Cemetery. Here, I presented my biography and my reflection on the soldier whom I had chosen, Myer Tutzer Cohen. Leading up to this anticipated moment, I felt my nerves and emotions spike; I would finally be seeing the final resting place of my soldier, whom I had come to feel as if I knew. Presenting my reflection and biography on the life of someone who was a part of my community was a moment I will truly remember for the rest of my life. I am grateful I was able to share his story with my peers, as he was a formidable person in the history of the Jewish Canadian community.Following Poelcapelle cemetery, we visited the Tyne Cot Commonwealth cemetery. Here, 12 000 Allied soldiers are buried and the rows upon rows of tombstones was a jarring sight. Kim informed us of the brutal conditions soldiers endured during the battle of Passchendaele, such as mud so thick many soldiers drowned in it.After, we made our way to the Langemark German war cemetery. We learned that more than 44 000 soldiers are buried there, a simply incomprehensible number that left many of us, myself included, feeling stunned.Shortly after, we made a brief stop at the Essex Farm cemetery, the location at which John McCrae, the Canadian poet, is buried. Kim touchingly described the life of this renowned Canadian, and I was left with a deeper understanding of this significant figure in Canadian history and literature.We then made our way into the town of Ypres, in Belgium. We were allocated time to explore the town, and of course couldn’t miss out on Belgian waffles and chocolate! A few hours later, I had the honour to witness the Last Post Menin Gate ceremony. The sizeable crowd that gathered shocked me; it was a profound reminder that people still harbour a deep respect for the sacrifices made more than a century ago.To conclude, this day was one of intense emotions but equally of profound realization. Seeing with my own eyes the sheer magnitude of the death inflicted by this war was astounding. Each of the names on these tombstones were people; they had friends and family praying for their return home, they had dreams and aspirations that were cut short in this brutal and bloody conflict. I am left with a lasting feeling of gratitude; what I have seen today has been unforgettable and will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Jan Nasibog, Rosetown, Saskatchewan

Oh, how could I begin to describe today’s eventful set of events, from gaining even more knowledge, to exploring sights once unseen? Excusing myself from the little sleep I took, (I am but a worrywart!) I started the day on a great note by adding finishing touches to my team’s group project and finalizing it with my group members, Sebastian, Fifi, and Himanshu. Then, we embarked on a fantastic journey with our fantastic Ypres (Yeep? Yip-res?) tour guide, Kim. Oh, how eye-opening seeing it all was. Looking at Hill 60 for the first time—with my very own eyes—was a life changing experience.

Our field presentation went terrific, although there were a lot of questions that were asked! Then, we trekked off to the Commonwealth Military Cemetery for Rose Mathewson-Yehia’s soldier presentation on Lieutenant Myertutzer Cohen, Hearing about Rose’s reflections about a Jewish-Canadian soldier and hisefforts, recognition, and legacy 100 years after the war was, simply put, incredible.

We then explored the Tyne Cot cemetery, a beautiful sight for a grim reminder of the cost of war. Looking at the names inscribed on the walls and etched on gravestones, I began to feel frustrated at just how many there were. Perhaps I began to become a little bit angrier for these people. It was a grim reminder that every single grave had a life to share and not just a number.

My heart became somber as we moved on to our next destination at the Langemark German War Cemetery. I saw the mass grave at the heart of the place—and my mind could not keep past the thousands of soldiers within the burial ground. When I looked into the gravestones, I was both angered and saddened at the fact that many of these people on the front lines have been buried in threes, then seven in one, and then—oh, my heart sank when I saw it—nine people in one grave. I felt terrible, but reflective all the same.

We then visited the brooding soldier, and another cemetery with a commemoration for John McCrae, the author of “In Flanders Fields”, and learned about his upbringing and death. I mourn at the sight, and as an artist and poet myself, I empathize with his situation intensely.

Following that, we had about an hour to ourselves to explore the heart of Ypres, Belgium. The sight was simply amazing, paired with the architecture of the city and, oh, the shops! They were wonderful. A large highlight of mine was the waffle, nutella, and ice cream that absolutely rocked my world. I’m thinking, the Belgian Waffle simply reset my tastebuds, it was so good!

Lastly, and the largest highlight of my day, was the Menin Gate Ceremony. I got to be a part of the wreath-laying ceremony, with both Austin, Sebastian, and Dani. What an honor it was to be able to be a part of this incredible ceremony and to be able to speak to many of those that were part of it as well. Another highlight of mine was meeting members of the Rainbow Veterans of Canada and connecting with them. It was absolutely incredible to hear about their experiences and learn from it as well. Never have I ever connected with a group of people so quickly and honestly. What a privilege it was!

We finished the day by sitting in a circle on Hill 62, as the other Vimy recipients, Chaperones, and I, sat in a circle and reflected on the halfway point of the program. I wanted to express even more of my gratitude for this program and the friends that I have made through this, although I couldn't really put it into words!

Overall, this day has been amazing. I am incredibly grateful for this, and am also looking forward to experiencing the next few days of the program!

Himanshu Surukanti, Edmonton, Alberta

Today, we were joined by a tour guide, who provided us with a variety of insights and detailed information about each location we visited.

We began the day at Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world, where the rows upon rows of white gravestones stretched out before us served as a poignant reminder of the immense human cost of war. At the Langemark German Cemetery, a massive concentration gravesite, I was struck by the contrast in treatment between German and Commonwealth cemeteries. Whereas the plots of land on which the previous sites we’d visited had been gifted to their respective Commonwealth governments, Germany was required to pay to use the land at Langemarck.

Essex Farm Cemetery provided a window into some individual stories of sacrifice, from the renowned poet John McCrae, author of the famous “In Flanders Fields" to the young Valentine Strudwick, who became a casualty of war after joining the army at just age 15.

At Hill 60, the scars of WW1 were etched into the landscape, with the crater from a mine detonation standing as a haunting testament to the ferocity of battle. Here, I had the honour of giving a presentation on the environmental impact of WW1 and fielding a number of astute questions alongside my field group. We then visited the Brooding Soldier memorial, runner-up to the Vimy Memorial in a post-war monument contest to commemorate the Canadian experience during the Great War.

We rounded off the day with a bit of free time shopping in Ypres, before bearing witness to the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate and reflecting on our experiences thus far and expectations for the remainder of the trip to come.

April 7

On the fifth day of the Vimy Pilgrimage Award Program, the students started their day with a visit to the Menin Gate where they had participated in the Post Ceremony the night prior. There, Brett English shared the story of Lieutenant Cameron Brant, an indigenous soldier. Afterwards, Brett read a poem and burnt sage as part of a smudging ceremony. The Students then continued to the Dozingham and Lijssenthoek Military Cemeteries, and the In Flanders Fields Museum before heading back to France where they spent some time at the Ring of Remembrance. 

Brett English at the Menin Gate

Hana Hutchinson, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia

Today as we made our journey from Belgium, back to France, we had many opportunities to engage with new learning through visits to museums, and to cemeteries for discussions and presentations.

We began back at the Menin Gate, where we attended the Last Post Ceremony the night prior. Brett shared with us the story of an indigenous soldier, Lieutenant Cameron Brant. He explained to us the history of indigenous soldiers in the war, and how they faced discrimination before, during and after the war. Brett did a ceremony for his soldier, where he played the Pow Wow song, Soldier Boy, by Black Lodge Singers, and burned sage. The burning of sage is believed to relieve their energy from the earthly plains. This was a very special ceremony to witness.

We soon arrived at the Dozingham Military Cemetery where Nevaeh told us the story of her great great uncle, Private John William Clark, who served in the First World War. It was clear through Nevaeh’s presentation that she had a powerful connection to this part of her history, sharing Private Clark’s immense bravery and achievements.

Next, we went to the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery. This is the cemetery where a soldier from my home community is buried, Private Roland Coalfleet Reid. During our time at the cemetery, I honoured him and shared about this young solider’s life. The Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery is the second largest Commonwealth cemetery with 10,786 soldiers buried here. To look out over nearly 11,000 graves is deeply moving, and when I approached Private Reid’s grave, I was overcome with emotion.

At his grave I placed a Nova Scotian Flag (his home province), a Canadian Flag (who he was fighting for), a framed photograph of Private Reid (to see the face behind the name and story), and a heart-shaped rock which was collected from his hometown’s railway station where he was photographed with the 193rd Battalion before leaving to serve in the Great War.

By visiting Private Reid’s grave and sharing his story, I feel as though I “brought him home” for myself, my community, his descents, and above all, Private Reid, who never returned home.

Below is the poem I created to commemorate the life of Young Solider Reid.

In youth's embrace, he took his stand,

A soldier boy, with rifle in hand.

With dreams of glory, he marched away,

To lands unknown, where shadows lay.

His laughter, once so carefree and light,

Now mingled with the sounds of fight.

For in his bravery, we find a tale,

Of a young soldier's courage, amidst the terror.

So let us remember the boy who went,

To war's cruel grasp, his youth he lent.

In his memory, may peace arise,

And may his sacrifice never demise.

Following these presentations, we visited the Flanders Fields Museum. This museum was filled with many original artifacts and their stories. The exhibits I found specifically fascinating were the displays of the soldiers clothing and personal items, medical kits used by the Nursing Sisters, and about the reconstruction after the war.

Once we returned to France, we visited the Ring of Remembrance, this memorial names nearly 580,000 soldiers. Kaiya told us about her nursing sister, Katherine MacDonald. As someone who values female empowerment, I appreciate her passion as she spoke about the bravery of the women during the First World War. The women were Nursing Sisters and treated the wounded men, being exposed to many harmful situations. They are seldom mentioned in the history of the Great War, despite their absolutely crucial and powerful role.

At the Notre Dame de Lorette, we heard a group presentation from Nevaeh, Finn and Rohan on conscription in Canada during the First World War. It was thought-provoking to hear their opinions on something being justified versus just.

Visiting the Étaples Cemetery, evoked interesting discussions as it has a very unique history. We spoke about censorship on the home front and how this affected Canada in 1914-1918, as well as now in present day that historians and archivists are working to discover information and piece together aspects of history. Letters were shared with us from the war.

A powerful reminder of the bravery and sacrifice.

Léa Guénette, Laval, Québec

I feel extremely lucky to be doing this programme. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so I cherish every moment of it.

Today, 7 April, here are my favourite moments of the day. One of those moments was Brett's presentation. He commemorated his soldier in a very special way by burning sage and playing traditional music from his Piikani nation.

We then left Belgium for Arras in France. Once there, Kaiya gave a very moving presentation on a nursing sister at the Ring of Memory site. This ring contains the names of 580,000 soldiers who died in the Nord-de-Pas-de-Calais region. Seeing all these names touched me deeply. Reading that number in a book is one thing, but seeing it with your own eyes is totally different.

I was even lucky enough to find a soldier with the same surname as me! Finally, I really enjoyed the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette National Necropolis. It's a military cemetery where 42,000 soldiers are buried. Seeing all those graves moved me. All these people fought bravely in the First World War, so I feel very honoured today to be able to pay tribute to them.

The chance to take part in this programme will stay with me forever!

(Translated from French)

Finn Conway, Regina, Saskatchewan

Today, April 7th, was the heaviest and most eye opening portion of the program so far. We started our day at the Menin Gate in Ypres, where Brett English gave a incredibly powerful presentation on the war effort from the perspective of Indigenous Canadians, as well as the discrimination many Indigenous veterans faced after the war. After this we traveled to Dozinghem Military Cemetery, where Neveah Swamidas held her presentation, which focused on a young Newfoundlander. Both this presentation and Hana Hutcherson’s earlier this morning had themes including the impact the war had on the direct families of those who died and the difficulty of finding helpful resources to further understand these soldiers and their fight. Back in Ypres, we had the opportunity to take in the “In Flanders Field Museum”. The magnificent view from atop the clock tower in the center of town offered a poignant reminder of the photographs displayed below us in the museum’s gallery, especially those documenting the complete and utter devastation of Ypres during the First World War. Next, we drove back over the border into France to Notre Dame de Lorette, the largest French Military Cemetery in the world. It was here that myself, Rohan Sylvain and Neveah Swamidas conducted our presentation on the experiences of conscripted soldiers during the First World War. I was very glad to have the opportunity to share a presentation on a subject that I am interested and passionate about to a group as intelligent and engaged as the one I find myself a part of. Also at Notre Dame de Lorette, Kaiya Schade gave a excellent presentation on the Canadian Nursing Sisters and the need for more efforts to commemorate their contributions. Finally, our chaperones gave a presentation on the war from the Home Front perspective and showed the group several correspondences between soldiers and their loved ones back home. We arrived in Arras and had supper before getting settled into our hotel.

Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

April 8

On the sixth day of the Vimy Pilgrimage Award the students  visited the Canadian National Vimy Memorial where a number of students gave their soldier presentations. The students also spent time at the Battle of Arras and Battle of Hill 70 Memorials, and visited the Carrière Wellington museum.

Namirembe Afatsawo, The Pas, Manitoba

Today is yet another day of learning and fun. For our 6th day in the program we did a variety of activities:Stop 1: Wellington QuarryAt the Wellington Quarry we explored tunnels that were made by the troops. They start in Arras and lead all the way to the battle field.This was certainly an interesting experience. Being able to walk through tunnels that are over 100 years old is not a chance that a person gets everyday. This was definitely one of my favourite activities that we have done so far during the program.Stop 2: Arras Flying Services MemorialHere, the names of 35 942 officers and men of the British empire forces are engraved the walls. We came to this memorial for the presentation of Yehia, Danielle, and Brett where they discussed Indigenous Peoples' experiences in the First World War. The reason for presenting at this spot was because James David Moses, an Indigenous pilot, was commemorated here.The presentation was very well done and it was nice to learn more about this group's experiences.Stop 3: Cabaret Rouge CemeteryWe stopped at this cemetery for Himanshu's soldier presentation on Private George Price.This was yet another soldier presentation that was a job well done!Stop 4: Vimy TrenchesWe had a tour of the Canadian forces trenches and tunnels that are located near Vimy Ridge.Like the tunnels in Arras, this was also one of my favourite activities. Walking underground and through the trenches was intriguing. Although, it is sad to know that sites like these have such a dark history. What is now a great tale to tell was once a place full of violence and despair.Stop 5: Vimy Ridge MemorialThe group then had the opportunity of visiting the Vimy Ridge. While here we heard presentations from myself, Fifi, Rohan, Yehia, Ali.Being able to present my soldier, Lieutenant Lancelot Josheph Bertrand, at that location felt very special as it is a significant part of Canadian history.Not to mention, it is so inspiring to know that someone who is the same race as me was able to reach such a high-ranking position despite all the discrimination he faced. Learning about his story has made me realize that no matter what, I am capable of being successful.Moreover, during my presentation I read a biography that I wrote as well as a poem. The poem has three sections. The first two are from his perspective and the last part is from my own perspective.

Lieutenant Lancelot Joseph Bertrand Reflection

The start

For I am dust, and to dust I shall return

Well, it’s time for me to leave

Something I still cannot believe

Grenada, my home, my heart

It is now that we must part

To my family, how I love you so

It hurts so much, but now I must go

Onwards to Canada

A new land, a brighter future?

The experience

From clerk to soldier

Wasn’t exactly my plan

But I have to work with what’s put in my hands

First the 11th battalion, and now the 7th

I am now on my way to France

Many who look like me do not get this chance

So now I must prove myself

Black is strong

Black is smart

Black is resilient.

Great chaos is upon us up on the ridge

But in order to win, we must cross this bridge


Lieutenant Lancelot Joseph Bertrand

Thank you

It is now over 100 years since your passing

Yet I now recount your story, as if your life was everlasting

Though you wouldn’t have expected it then

You are an inspiration

An inspiration that deserves lots of acclamation

That’s why as a Black teen, I feel honoured to share your story

That way others too can know your glory

Here at the Vimy Ridge

Your name is written alongside many others

Your army sisters and brothers

Your life was short, yet so fulfilling

This is why I am willing

Willing to share your story

For you came from dust, and to dust you have now returned

And thus,

I will make sure your legacy does not crash and burn

Stop 6: Hill 70At Hill 70 we heard a presentation from Becky on her soldier: Frederick Lee.It is always nice to hear the story of a solider who was part of a minority group as their stories and experiences have been ignored for far too long.Overall, today was yet another exciting and enriching day with all the VPA participants in France.

Yehia Ayad, Burnaby, British Columbia

It’s today, April 8th, that we started our journey finding nestled in the heart of Arras, France, is a tapestry of history with threads of courage, sacrifice, and remembrance.

One significant stop was 20 meters below the picturesque pavement, the Carrière Wellington Quarry. At the Wellington Quarry, the experience begins outside. The oddly arranged, asymmetrical wall of countless portraits of the New Zealand Tunnellers.

Sturdy “N-Zs” or Kiwi’s delved out the Wellington Quarry’s eight kilometres of tunnels between October 1916 and March 1917. They look back at me, with pride. They also speak to me. The Memorial is filled with the sound of first-hand accounts read from their war diaries. I’ve been brought back to 1917, my trusty Tommy helmet and audio-guide at my side, my only piece of kit.

A different world.

A city devastated by bombardments. My first sight is shocking: Arras in ruins.

Only the roaring of shellfire pierces the now quiet tunnels.

“Where has the light”, the vibrancy of a place gone?

The answer comes as the lift opens onto the white chalk, 13 degrees humidity, dripping droplets echoes through the once noisy, busy cavities, wooden planking guides my steps, subdued bright lighting directs my gaze towards World War One graffiti.

However one question lingers starkly clear: how do 24,000 soldiers live for a week in this warren of underground tunnels?

Donned the “Town beneath the ground”, the smallest crannies of limestones in the Wellington Quarry are exploited to the full for daily living: showers, a transmission room, wooden beds, and an officers’ office.

Adjacent to this quarry, the Mémorial Arras - Services aériennes, where I presented my field presentation on indigenous peoples and Canadas War effort. We pay homage to the Indigenous contributions to the war effort, exemplified by figures like James David Moses. While there was no designated commemorative space, it serves as a cruel and cold reminder of the lack of recognition and support to these peoples. Their stories serve as a reminder of individuals who stood united in the face of adversity; an allegiance for a country who deemed them as outcasts and uncivilized.

Further along the path of remembrance lies the Cimetière Cabaret Rouge, where the fallen find eternal rest. As I walked among the rows of gravestones, I couldn't help but be moved by the solemnity of the site. Here lies the last soldier to perish before the armistice—Private George Lawrence Price, a poignant reminder of the cost of freedom, and the willingness and humanity present in these soldiers.

"He was just doing his job."

As we made the tumultuous journey past Arras, to the National Canadian Vimy Ridge Memorial.

As my eyes fixed on the architectural marvel, where 11,285 names are etched forevermore. It’s easy to fall in the grand narrative and to dehumanize the collective as individuals with unique stories and dreams. They were more than mere numbers, but as a person who lived, loved, grieved and hoped amidst the horrors of war.

It was past the Grange Tunnel, one tour guide made something abundantly clear: “History is a course that is driven by self-reflection.”

Vimy is important for many reasons. It was the first time that Canadians fought for king and country as a distinct national army, with all four divisions of the Canadian Corps entering the battle together. Their determined walk across no man's land, behind a creeping artillery barrage called for almost unimaginable courage, unfathomable till this day.

There equally lays my soldier, Sapper Albert Edward McKenzie, a true embodiment of a hero, a symbol that endures. Though deemed insignificant and in the realm of anonymity, he’s found a voice in me.

“The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.”

Although it was just one day in our nation’s past, it has much to teach us about our present place in the world.

Hill 70 posed as our last stop. There stands as a tribute to hero Frederick Lee, whose bravery echoes through the ages. Their legacy serves as a beacon of hope amidst the shadows of war.

A “lost son” of the Chinese community, his story compelling as his lack of inclusion in Canadian history books tells a story:

A call on the Asian minorities to rise, in a world that too often brings them down.

As we walk these hallowed grounds, where bodies lay eternally rested, let us not only remember the past but also honor the resilience and valor of those who shaped it. Their sacrifices serve as a timeless reminder of the enduring human spirit in the face of adversity.

Yehia also shared this moving reflection:

Dear Sapper McKenzie,

A century has passed since the world was engulfed in a great war that changed the future of nations and the lives of millions alike. Among those millions was you, Sapper Albert Edward McKenzie, a young man whose journey ended early on the battlefields of the First World War. Why did you enlist? Why risk your life? Social pressure? Patriotism? Propaganda? Glory? Adventure? Did you think the war would be over by Christmas? Personal ties to Great Britain? These questions remain as I reflect on the circumstances and the motivations that brought you, Albert Edward McKenzie, far from your family in Vancouver, to the foreign European fields of conflict and violence.

Though your impetus remains unclear, we can recognize that your choice of service, was a tangible act that has shaped our world today. The world you knew was different and safer; yet you chose to leave it behind for a greater cause than yourself. Despite this, for many, you’ve fallen into the realm of insignificance. They’ll see your supposedly minute accomplishments and judge you unfavourably against the decorated lives of those who lived to tell the tale. In this sense, I was distraught by the lack of information on you; it’s a feeling of bitterness, to see your efforts, a piece of history, forever gone.

You now find a voice in me.

What cannot be diminished is that you faced the grim realities of war, facing casualties and psychological trauma, so the majority could continue to enjoy the comforts and tranquility of civilian life. As I come to understand your story and your courage, one thing is starkly clear: You are a true symbol of a hero.

For many of us, war is observed from afar—on screens, through journalists, or on social media. It’s a distant reality for those who have known only peacetime. But for you, Sapper McKenzie, war was not distant; it was an everyday struggle, constant survival, and resilience.

It’s easy to get lost in the grand narratives of history, to see the 425,000 soldiers serving overseas and to group them as a collective rather than humanizing them as individuals with unique stories and dreams. You were more than just a number, more than a soldier; you were an electrician by trade, a cherished brother, a son, and a friend.

It was a choice that required courage and a willingness to fight for a cause that you may very well not live to see. A cause of honor, valor and conviction still felt today. As I reflect on this choice over 100 years later, I am moved by the depth of your commitment to this day. Your actions remind me that behind every uniform and every shellshocked face was a person with hopes, fears, and a life they left behind.

As I reflect on your life, I am struck by the common ground between us across time. Like you, I am young, starting my life, and though I walk the same battlefields in peace, I have the privilege of carrying with me the weight of your sacrifices and service. In your letters to your parents, the reality of war came through—not just as a distant battle but as a personal struggle against the odds. You didn’t just fight; you lived through the Ypres engagement, you toiled in the trenches, and you faced the horrors of the first chlorine gas attacks with a courage that is hard to fathom.

While your life was cut short on June 15, 1915, your legacy is a heroic symbol that endures best encapsulated by a Benjamin Disraeli quote: “The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.”

At the Vimy Memorial where your name is now etched forever, among the 11,285 honoured, you now find a voice in me, you are remembered not just as a soldier who fought and died, and a lost body, but as a person who lived, loved, grieved and hoped amidst the horrors of war. But in honoring you and other innocent people who made the ultimate sacrifice, we also carry a responsibility—to reconcile, understand and learn from the mistakes of the past, so that the wars and sacrifices made by people like you aren't needed again.

As I share your story, I do so to ensure your life, service, and sacrifice are remembered and honored, now and always.

Lest we forget, and may you rest, wherever you are, eternally peaceful.

Fifi Chen, New Maryland, New Brunswick

Today is the second last day of the Vimy Program! We started off by heading to Carrière Wellington Quarry, and went underground 20 metres to explore how soldiers lived there.

There were wooden beds to sleep on, canned foods to eat, and even a bathtub to take a bath or have water. However, the underground was pretty cold, therefore the soldiers would have had to wear many layers of clothing to stay warm.  

There were many limestones and special types of wood to observe, and there was a tour guide who explained everything to you in detail, which made it an amazing experience. It was easy to learn and understand how some soldiers lived back then.  

Next, we headed to Arras Flying Services Memorial to listen to a field presentation by Dani, Brett and Yehia. We listened and learned about Indigenous people as well as how they were treated in the past, which was informative but also sad, due to the fact that most of them were not treated equally.  

There were many names engraved on the walls, and there was even a statue sculpted like a globe, displayed on top of a monument. On the monument, there were even more names printed on for us to remark.  

After that, we arrived at the Cabaret Rouge Cemetery, where it contained a gigantic quantity of gravestones toward the fallen soldiers. We sat, pondering about the past, and commemorated the soldiers for their help towards their countries. Their dedication and sacrifice, to make their families and countries proud.  

Then, we went to Vimy, where I presented my soldier presentation. But before doing that, we walked 8 feet down towards an underground! We explored some ancient, empty subway tunnels from the First World War and got to take some pictures to remember for the rest of our lives.  

We walked around the paths, exploring each and every detail at Vimy, remembering why it was created and how much it represents our past history. Shockingly, there are over 11,000 soldiers who are honoured on this memorial today!  

For my soldier biography, I decided to research as well as share to the other Vimy recipients  about Lieutenant Robert William Otto Barnes. I decided to pick Robert William Otto Barnes as my soldier, the reason being that he lived and was enlisted in the same province where I live, which is New Brunswick!  

He also demonstrated a selfless act by serving his country even when he wasn’t obligated to, as there is a possibility of death by serving the army. Regardless of that risk, he still decided to do it, which many people probably would not have done.  

Researching him was difficult, as there was not much information about him, and not everything written about him was entirely factual as well, however, I still learned so much from him! It was interesting to read about lives from the past, and to compare their lives with how we live today.  

Looking back, I realize that our current generation is living far better than the past. Today, many of us are mostly complaining about things we cannot afford or opportunities we can’t receive, but in the past, all they worried about were the minimal necessities such as food, drinks, and even clothing!  

I believe that everyone today should appreciate more about what they have, since the majority of us are far better off than they ever were and are able to get proper education, homes and human utilities. Unlike those in the past, most of us are able to live with our closed ones safely and are not living in a time where everywhere was dangerous and guns that could shoot you easily.  

We stayed at Vimy for about 4 hours. I had the opportunity to listen to Ali, Becky, Yehia, Himanshu and Namirembe’s presentations on their soldiers, which were all very diverse and unique.  Lastly, to conclude the day, we went to Hill 70, and gazed at an acre of land dedicated to Frederick Lee, a Chinese Canadian soldier Becky chose to present! From her presentation, I learned a lot more about my culture being Chinese and achievements Frederick Lee did!  

At Hill 70, there was also a tall monument built in 2019! It was a productive day, being educated in a fun day with friends, and having a great time outside in the beautiful weather.  

I am grateful to be selected as one of the 2024 Vimy Pilgrimage Award Recipients, because every day here, I’ve learned, grown, and got to know other extraordinary people!

April 9

On the 7th and final day of the 2024 VPA Program, Vimy Ridge Day, the students completed their pilgrimage to the Canadian National Vimy Memorial where they participated in the Vimy Ridge Day Ceremony. The students also spent some time in the Wailly Orchard Cemetery.

Danielle Biolaze-Lewis, Comox, British Columbia

On the 9th of April or the last day of the 2024 Vimy Pilgrimage the day began with arriving at the Ayette Indian and Chinese Cemetery. At this small cemetery a group discussion was lead by Holly one of the chaperones. She asked us each to reflect upon our experiences thus far into the educational trip abroad wishing that we each had the opportunity to connect our experience to those of a soldier or nurse.

Following this Léa Guenette presented her research on a World War One soldier Pierre Eugène Guay at the Wailly Orchard Cemetery. After her presentation the leadership students of the day Yehia, Brett, Abby, and I assisted in taking the etching of the soldiers headstone. This would be the last visit of a cemetery during the Vimy Pilgrimage.

Next Kaiga Leah Schade, Sarah Abai and LéaGurnette did there field presentation, women on the front during the Great War at Zivy Crater. Lastly at this site Chloé spoke about sexual abuse in WWI. I was surprised to learn what the term rape included between the years 1914-1918.

From Zivy Crater we drove for the last time along the western front of France to Vimy memorial where we attended a ceremony that marked the anniversary of 107 years since the battle at Vimy Ridge. After the memorable ceremony, the recipient’s gathered and asked to summarize the experience of the 2024 VPA in one word where a fellow recipient said “impactful”. Truly, this opportunity was impactful.

Sincerely,Danielle Bilozaze-Lewis

Rohan Sylvain, Edmonton, Alberta

 Today was officially the final day of The Vimy Pilgrimage Award. We started it off by visiting the Ayette cemetery - a small and secluded burial site for a handful of Indian and Chinese soldiers and laborers of the Great War. Immediately, I was taken aback by the isolation of this site. Basically invisible from the outside, we had to follow a muddy trail to reach it. All the while, I noticed that this separation exactly represents the reality these minorities had to face during the war. These men had fallen after the war, as they were sent to clean up the battlefield, yet they came upon undetonated explosives which ended their lives. As an Indian myself, this was very impactful, and I paid my full respects to my brothers in blood.

   Soon after, we stopped by the Wailly Orchard cemetery, wherein we attended the final Bringing them  project, presented by Léa Guénette. It was a beautifully executed and meticulously crafted tribute to a fellow Canadian soldier. Additionally, we stood one last time over the remains of some who sacrificed their lives for our future, as this was the last cemetery we would visit.

   The next stop was the Zivy crater. In the site, the final field presentation was exhibited on the topic of Women on the Front Lines. Before listening to this elaborate presentation, I had very little knowledge of the latter, but thereafter, I felt as though I could put myself in one of the nursing sister’s or female factory worker’s shoes and understand their story. This was an enlightening experience for me, since I am usually more interested in the strategies and equipment used in the Great War. Then, Chloé, our chaperone, discussed the topic of sexual violence on the front with us, in an honest and open atmosphere. Once again, I learned about an entirely foreign-to-me facet of this conflict, of which local women were treated as war trophies and symbols of conquering the enemy. The thousands of cases of rape and sexual violence were never properly investigated, almost always leaving the women with nothing. The hardships these brave ladies endured during the Great War are incomprehensible, but now I am able to paint a picture of their experiences.

   Finally, we made our last stop to the Vimy Memorial to participate in its annual ceremony. We solemnly stood and watched veterans, deputies, and many significant individuals pay tribute to the fallen Canadiens. The collective sentiment of sorrow struck me, as I pondered these past events that I now feel strongly connected to.

   In sum, today was undoubtedly the best possible way to end this educational program. Touching on the hidden sides of the war and also attending a large commemoration event topped it off with a bittersweet ending of loss and recognition. I forever thank The Vimy Foundation for making this opportunity accessible for me and I’m indefinitely in debt to the thousands who gave their lives to protect today’s humanity.

Kaiya Leah-Schade, Montreal Quebec

The last day of our educational journey was filled with emotion and remembrance. I reminisce on the cries and the laughs our VPA family had during this life-changing experience. I am incredibly grateful for the learning, the mémoires, and the new connections. Most of all, I cherish this last day we had together.

We began our day by listening to Léa’s commemorative presentation on her soldier Pierre Eugène Guay. I related to this soldier and Léa as we all grew up in Québec and share many aspects of that culture. Hearing the story of a Québécois soldier was important to me because although I learned about Québec history in school, this was my first account of learning about the personal lives of a Québéois soldier in the First World War.

At the Zivy Crater, I had the opportunity to present about Women on the Front along with Léa and Sarah. We discussed the war godmothers, the Canadian Nursing sisters, sexual violence against women, the suffragettes, and the improvements in women’s rights. The group asked us several questions and Léa and I got into a historical debate as Chloé pointed out. We were opposed to whether or not the First World War was necessary for the amelioration of women's rights. Following this conversation, Chloé discussed background information on her field of studies on Sexual Violence during the 2nd World War, and further on Sexual Violence during the First World War. She then proceeded to ask us “Why do we believe that some men were court Marshalled for sexual violence and why many others weren't?”. My peers and I brought up the biases of race, age, background, and various other hypotheses. I was particularly emotional following this conversation because sexual violence at war times occurs massively and our society makes it particularly difficult for victims to speak up. I will continue to learn about sexual violence in times of war and generally in society as these acts of violence are recurring and widespread. In addition, our communities need to work toward facilitating the difficult process of denunciation and we must work toward receiving justice. Lastly, these injustices create further socioeconomic gender disparity.

We then proceeded to the Vimy Memorial, where the annual Vimy ceremony took place. I was particularly interested in hearing the stories and perspectives of members of the Rainbow Veterans of Canada. Moreover, I was particularly interested in the story of Frederick Lea Hardy which was mentioned by Sarah Wothman at the ceremony and discussed with us the day prior with Sean. I was disgusted at hearing that the gay purge occurred in the military during the 20th century. This reminded me that these horrors were not long in the past. Further, discrimination against minorities and marginalized groups is omnipresent globally and you must “Speak your mind even if your voice shakes”(Ruth Bader Ginsburg) especially in times of injustice.

Thank you to the Vimy Foundation, the chaperons, and my new friends for this incredible

experience. I am so proud of you all. <3


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Walter S. Allward: Life & Work chronicles the artist’s life from his formative years in Toronto working for the architectural firm Gibson and Simpson to his success as a leading sculptor. The book explores Allward’s early works, including the South African War Memorial in Toronto (1904–11), the Baldwin-Lafontaine Monument on Parliament Hill in Ottawa (1908–14), the Bell Memorial, commemorating Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone in Brantford (1909–17), and the Stratford War Memorial (1919–22), before discussing how the artist turned his talents toward the Vimy Memorial, an icon of Canadian sacrifice and a legacy for future generations. About the author Philip Dombowsky is an Archivist at the National Gallery of Canada. He holds an MA (Art History, Concordia) and a Master of Library and Information Studies (McGill). Dombowsky has curated numerous exhibitions for the NGC Library and Archives, most notably in the area of book design and illustration. He is the author of Index to the National Gallery of Canada’s Exhibition Catalogues and Checklists 1880–1930, which won the Melva J. Dwyer Award in 2008.

*NEW* Walter S. Allward Life & Work

$ 30.00 

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