This Week in History


Memorial to a Nation

For the week of Monday July 21, 2003

On July 26, 1936, King Edward VIII and tens of thousands of people looked on as the Canadian National Vimy Memorial was inaugurated in France. Erected on the site of the famous Battle of Vimy Ridge, the monument is a tribute to Canadian soldiers who fought in the First World War.

Flypast of military aircraft during the unveiling of the Vimy Ridge Memorial

Flypast of military aircraft during the unveiling of the
Vimy Ridge Memorial

© Cdn. Govt. Motion Pict. Bureau / National Film Board of Canada
LAC / PA-148872

In October 1921, a Canada-wide competition was held to choose the plans for a monument in memory of these soldiers. From among the 160 projects submitted, Toronto architect and sculptor Walter Seymour Allward’s plan was chosen. In 1922, France granted Canada free use of the 107 hectares of land that surround Vimy Ridge in gratitude for Canada’s sacrifices during the First World War. The Canadian government decided to turn this land into a commemorative site for the 600 000 men who served the country during the four years of conflict, and especially for the some 66 000 who lost their lives in battle. The government erected the monument designed by Allward on this land.

Figure representing Canada, a young nation mourning.

Sculpture representing Canada,
a young nation mourning

© Heritage Conservation Services,
PWGSC / Robert Pajot

Construction of the monument began in 1925 and finished 11 years later. It was built on the highest point of the Ridge, Hill 145, and rests on a foundation of approximately 15 000 tonnes of concrete, reinforced with hundreds of tonnes of steel. The excavation had to be done with great care as the ground was still littered with live bombs and shells. The base and pylons are made from a special type of limestone imported from Yugoslavia. The 20 figures that grace the monument were actually carved where they now stand from huge blocks of this stone.

Allward once said that his inspiration for the monument came to him in a dream. The two 27-metre-high pylons represent Canada and France – two nations united in war. Facing the battlefield, the sculptures of a male and female mourner represent the Canadian families who lost their sons. At the top of the pylons are the Statues of Justice and Peace, and below, other figures symbolizing Truth, Knowledge, Faith and Charity. Engraved on the walls of the monument are the names of the 11 285 Canadians who were killed in France during the First World War and whose final resting places are unknown. The following words are inscribed at the base of the monument: “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.”

Thousands of people visit the Monument every year

Thousands of people visit the Monument every year
© Parks Canada / Émilie Paquin

The Vimy Memorial, a masterpiece of Canadian sculpture, is part of the achievements that won Walter Seymour Allward recognition as a person of national historic importance. Vimy Ridge has been designated a national historic site.

To find out more about the Battle of Vimy Ridge, please read This Week in History archives: Canadian Victory at Vimy!

For more information on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, visit the Veterans Affairs Canada Web site.

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