Determined not to let the sacrifices made by thousands of Canadian soldiers more than a century ago be forgotten, the Embassy of France in Ottawa maintained its tradition this week of hosting a reception for supporters of the Vimy Foundation, a charity created in 2006 to preserve and promote Canada’s First World War legacy.
Some 150 guests came together Tuesday at the French ambassador’s gorgeous residence along Sussex Drive to remember the contributions of Canadian soldiers at Vimy Ridge in April 1917. We may have won the battle but it was at a heavy cost; some 3,600 Canadians lost their lives and more than 7,000 were wounded.
It’s been two years since 25,000 people joined such dignitaries as Canada’s prime minister, the French president and members of the British royal family at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in northern France to mark the 100-year anniversary and to honour those who fought and died. As well, last November, scores of world leaders gathered in Paris to commemorate the 100 years since the signing of the armistice.
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“The end of the commemorative cycle doesn’t mean we should turn the page and let the dust settle,” French Ambassador Kareen Rispal, who delivered her remarks at the podium in both French and English, said at Tuesday’s reception. “Just the opposite.
“History teaches us lessons we must always remember. The main lesson is that there can be no peace without close cooperation.”
Attendees from the Vimy Foundation included long-time board member and Ottawa resident Bruce Burrows, president of the Chamber of Marine Commerce. His grandfather, an artillery officer, fought at Vimy and made it as far as the Battle of Hill 70 before being badly wounded.
In 2017, Burrows attended the ceremony in France to mark the 100th anniversary of Vimy. A highlight of the trip was having his son, who was eight at the time, accompany him. The boy brought along his grandfather’s Military Cross medal and toured it around with him, keeping it safe in his pocket.
At the reception on behalf of the business sponsors were Cyber Defence Corporation executive chairman Paul Hindo; RBC regional president Marjolaine Hudon, Glenn Copeland, director of business development for Lockheed Martin, Sean and Brian Murray from Sakto Corporation, Hill+Knowlton’s Mike Plastino, and former Liberal defence minister David Pratt, from David Pratt & Associates. Pratt’s great uncle, Phileas Mallette, fought at Vimy Ridge with the 38th Battalion from Ottawa. He was injured but returned to the battlefields in time for Paschendale, and was later awarded a military medal.
Guests also included German Ambassador Sabine Sparwasser, long-time Vimy Foundation supporter Helen Vari, former Liberal defence minister David Collenette, Canadian military historian and author Tim Cook, and Henrietta Southam. She was on the board of the Vimy Foundation in its early days. As well, her late father, the legendary Hamilton Southam, was the driving force behind the Canadian War Museum and The Valiants Memorial military monument in Ottawa.
Special guests included Canadian actor R.H. Thomson, who, besides being one of the stars of the TV series Anne with an E, has played countless national historical figures on stage and screen. He’s also the creator and producer of the First World War memorial project, A World Remembers.
Thomson shared two poems, beginning with The Parable of the Old Man and the Young. It was penned by English poet and WWI soldier Wilfred Owen, who was killed in action, at age 25, only days before peace was declared. On a lighter note, Thomson recited Robert Service’s The Ballad of Soulful Sam, in the cockney accent it was written in.
As well, the room heard from one of the winners of a 2018 Vimy Pilgrimage Award, which allows recipient students to participate in a fully funded week-long educational program in Belgium and France to study Canada’s First World War history.
Not to go unnoticed was the presence of the 137 Ashbury RCD Army Cadets, some of whom wore borrowed replica WWI uniforms from the Canadian War Museum. “Thank you for protecting us with distinction at the front door,” Burrows graciously told them during his remarks. “This evening, we all felt safe.”