As is often the case, my first impression is a lasting one. As the bus turns the final corner climbing the hill to Vimy Ridge, the morning mist is slowly lifting. An eerie silence greets us as the beautifully restored twin pylons reach majestically into the fog above.
For no explicable reason I am overcome with emotion. It won?t be the last time over this most special of Easter weekends. A deep sadness paradoxically entwined with an immense sense of pride in being Canadian engulfs me.
As I stare in wonder at those two magnificent pillars of white stone I reflect upon the cataclysmic battle and the immortal words of Brigadier-General Alexander Ross, commander of one of the four Canadian divisions that stormed the ridge. How prophetic his words? ?I thought then that in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.?
For on that Easter Monday in 1917, 100,000 young Canadian men rose from their mud filled, vermin infested trenches united in their determination to accomplish the impossible. They fought their way up an unassailable ridge whose unknown name at that time would later become synonymous with what defines Canada as a nation? VIMY RIDGE.
The name doesn?t just remind us of valour, glory and sacrifice. From that day forward, Canada would become a nation that embraced our global responsibility to defend freedom, democracy and human rights.
It was the first time all four Canadian divisions fought together. As one unit. As one army. And together they succeeded where our British and French allies had failed. They captured the enemy stronghold believed to be impregnable.
There were many special moments over the next three days ? some happy, some tragically sad.
The sunset ceremony Saturday night, when the monument was first framed by the setting sun, only later to be illuminated amidst the gathering darkness. A truly spectacular sight that literally took one?s breath away. A chill went up my spine as I could almost sense the presence of the 3,598 brave Canadian souls who fell in that epic battle ninety years ago.
The Freedom of the City event on Easter Sunday in Arras, as the French citizens opened their homes and hearts to our veterans and Canadian Forces personnel.
The dinner that evening to honour veterans that suddenly and tragically had a pall cast over it when the Prime Minister acknowledged the loss of six more of our brave soldiers in Afghanistan.
And then it was April 9th, Easter Monday, a long day filled with literally hundreds of memorable moments. The pride, as first our accompanying veterans take their seats, then as thousands of Canadian youth marched up the ridge to swell our gathering crowd to more than 20,000.
The deathly quiet of the one-minute silent tribute, the tears during the heart rending lament by the lone fiddler, the sad refrain of the bagpipes, and then finally, Queen Elizabeth?s gracious re-dedication of Canada?s largest war memorial.
It was truly a national day of remembrance. One that I will treasure forever.