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Vimy Ridge National Historic Site of Canada

Vimy Monument, Parks Canada, 2008Vimy Ridge National Historic Site of Canada is located in northern France, fourteen kilometres north of the city of Arras. Several kilometres in length and rising to 145 metres, Vimy Ridge formed part of the Western Front during the First World War. The site is composed of an open area surrounded on three sides by trees and a sloping escarpment. It consists of a large monument, a preserved section of battlefield, restored trenches, tunnels, cemeteries, smaller memorials and a visitor centre. A simple landscape plan pulls together features that include a pine forest, allées, maple trees, connecting paths and roads. The Vimy monument features two 30-metre pylons and several sculpted figures, one of which represents Canada mourning her dead. Official recognition refers to the parcel of land, granted by France to Canada for use in perpetuity, which is approximately 117 hectares (290 acres).

Heritage value of historic place:

Vimy Ridge was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1996 because:

  • Canada's accomplishment, contribution and sacrifice in the First World War are themselves of major national significance;
  • the War itself was a landmark in the development of Canada as a nation;
  • Vimy is the site of a great Canadian victory in the First World War;
  • it memorializes Canadians lost in the conflict who have no known grave. [Minutes 1996]

Marked by the towering work of Canadian sculptor Walter Seymour Allward, Vimy Ridge is of national historic and architectural significance. Commissioned by the Canadian government the memorial is dedicated to the commemoration of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, to the accomplishment and sacrifice of Canadian Expeditionary Force members killed during the First World War, and to those 11,285 missing Canadian soldiers with no known grave.

On April 9, 1917 during the Battle of Arras all four Divisions of the Canadian Corps, supported by British and Canadian artillery, emerged from concealment and moved forward to capture the heavily defended and strategically significant Vimy Ridge. For the first time, Canadian troops were unified into a highly efficient battle group composed of men from every part of Canada and led by a Canadian commander. Now regarded as a significant Canadian military engagement in the First World War, the capture of Vimy Ridge was an achievement that had eluded other armies and was the first time Canadians had been responsible for an entire operation. In Canada, the battle is now associated with achievement and sacrifice and is considered a key event in the development of the nation's identity. The four-day assault cost the lives of 3,598 Canadian soldiers and officers with 7,104 others wounded.

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In 1922, France granted Canada perpetual use of a 117-hectare (290-acre) section of land at Vimy Ridge for a battlefield park and memorial. Grazed by sheep, one section remains undisturbed and treeless, with its trenches restored. The Canadian government commissioned Canadian sculptor Walter Seymour Allward to create a commemorative monument at the centre of the park. Allward's experimentation, modern sense of composition, and use of classical forms to express ideas are demonstrated through the scale, design and emotional power of the Vimy monument. The monument and site are a Canadian response to the loss and sacrifice of the First World War.

Character-Defining Elements:

The key elements that contribute to the heritage character of this site include:

  • its location in the Pas de Calais region of northern France;
  • the prominent setting on the highest escarpment of Vimy Ridge, Hill 145, overlooking the meadows, woods and farmland of the Douai Plain;
  • the topography of Vimy Ridge, which provides historic and geographic context;
  • the integrity of the surviving preserved battlefield terrain, the archaeological remains, structural and non-structural features from the First World War period, including artefacts in their original placement and extent, discovered and as yet undiscovered, including in situ vestiges of trenches, machine gun emplacements, bunkers, dugouts, shell holes, mine craters, underground strong-points, saps, listening posts, headquarters and hospitals and the network of tunnels both Allied and German;
  • the restored trenches that are open to visitors and portions of the stabilized wartime Grange Subway tunnel;
  • the open character of the grassed area of no-man's land that is marked by shell craters and not open to the public;
  • the overall layout of the battlefield memorial park;
  • the relationship and context of the site to other battlefields and commemorative sites;
  • the Moroccan Memorial (erected 1919-1925 outside the designated place but within sight of the memorial) dedicated to the French Army's Moroccan Division which attempted to take the ridge in May 1915;
  • the existence and location of other memorials on the site, including the Lions Club International Memorial, the four bronze plaques (erected to commemorate the granting of land to Canada), and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque;
  • Canadian Cemetery No. 2 and Givenchy Road Cemetery;
  • evidence of the stabilization work done to the battlefield as part of the conversion of the site to a memorial park in the 1920s and 1930s;
  • the post war forestation program of Scots and Austrian pines, and the Maple allées that contribute to the sacred and commemorative nature of the landscape.
  • the administration office, formerly Allward's house, its exterior design, scale massing, materials, and location near the Vimy monument;
  • the unimpeded viewscapes to the north and south from the memorial and ridge of no-man's land, which contribute to an understanding of the battle, and the vistas through the surrounding pine forest across the French countryside.

The key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the Vimy monument include:

  • its prominent siting on Hill 145:
  • the manicured grass surrounding the monument and its approaches and the amphitheatre-like space in front of its front wall;
  • the steel reinforced concrete frame on a reinforced concrete bed which supports monument's base, and the exterior of carved white Seget limestone that gives it its uniform colour;
  • the monument's simple geometry executed in a modern classical style, and the manner in which it projects from the ridge itself;
  • the twin limestone-faced pylons, representing France and Canada, that rise 30 metres above the stone platform;
  • the exterior walls, inscribed with the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers killed in France without any known grave, and the manner in which the names are carved in continuous bands around the monument crossing both horizontal and vertical joints;
  • the 20, twice life-size, carved allegorical figures evoking the myth of sacrifice, death and resurrection, including: 
    • the group at the top of the two pylons known as The Chorus, six figures representing the virtues of Truth, Faith, Justice, Charity, Knowledge and at the highest point, the figure of Peace; the shields of Canada, Britain and France, set around The Chorus;
    • The Spirit of Sacrifice holding a burning torch, standing between the pylons;
    • the prominent figure of Canada Bereft mourning her dead at the northeast (front) edge of the monument platform;
    • the tomb representing Canada's 65,000 war dead at the platform's base, which is draped in laurel branches and bears a Brodie helmet and sword;
    • the two carved groups beside the stairs, on each side of the 7.3-metre high front Wall of Defence known collectively as The Defenders, to the left, The Breaking of the Sword and to the right, Sympathy for the Helpless, and above each group the carved cannon muzzles draped in laurel and olive branches as symbols of Victory and Peace;
    • the Mourning Parents, two reclining figures, one male (right side) and one female (left side), which flank the large stairway at the monument's southwest (rear) side.

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Name of Historic Place: Vimy Ridge National Historic Site of Canada
Other Names: Hill 145
Province,territory: France
Community: Pas de Calais region

Boundary Description:
The place is defined by the 290 acre (100 117 ha) site which was granted by France to Canada for use in perpetuity as a memorial to the soldiers of the First World War.

Number and type of contributing resources:
2 buildings; 3 landscape features; 4 structures
(2 cemeteries; 1 trench; 1 Canadian War memorial; 1 administration office (Allward); 2 monuments; 1 interpretive/visitors centre)

Original functional category and type:
Defence - Battle Site
Defence - Military Defence Installation

Current functional category and type:
Religion, Ritual and Funeral - Mortuary Site, Cemetery or Enclosure
Leisure - Park
Leisure - Historic or Interpretive Site
Community - Commemorative Monument
Ownership of historic place (current):Government of Canada
Construction date range :1925-1936
Significant date range: 1917-1936

Associated event/person/organization/architect/builder:
Canadian Corps (organization)                                        
First World War (event)
The Battle of Vimy Ridge (event)
The Battle of Arras (event)
Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng (person)
General Sir Arthur William Currie, 1st Division (person)
Major General Henry Burstall, 2nd Division (person)
Major General Louis Lipsett, 3rd Division (person)
Major-General David Watson 4th Division (person)
Private William Johnstone Milne, VC (person)
Private John George Pattison, VC (person)
Lance Sergeant Ellis Wellwood Sifton, VC (person)
Captain Thain Wendell MacDowell, VC, DSO (person)
Walter Seymour Allward (builder)
Canadian Battlefields Memorials Commission (organization)                                 
Department of Veterans Affairs (organization)                                        
German Sixth Army (organization)
General Ludwig von Falkenhausen (person)
General Georg Karl Wichura, Pour le Mérite (person)
Oberstleutnant Wilhelm Von Goerne, Pour le Mérite (person)

Thematic category and type: Governing Canada - Military and Defence

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November, 1996; Commemorative Integrity Statement, 2005.

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