It has been over a week now since I returned home from France. Given that I was in Paris during the terrorist attacks, most of my conversations and interviews have been about my experiences around those events. Lost in many ways, was the purpose for my trip to France.
In 2017, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Battle of Vimy Ridge. It is said to be Canada’s greatest military victory and spawned what many call the birth of our nation. To celebrate the 100th anniversary, EF Educational Tours has organized a tour which will see between 6000-8000 students from across Canada travel to the site. In preparation for the tour, EF Educational Tours invited a group of senior administrators from across Canada to view the site and provide feedback.
On November 11th, we travelled to the Vimy Ridge Memorial. The first thing that struck me was the terrain as I looked up towards the memorial. Undulations caused by artillery shells mold the landscape. Much of the area is still fenced off because of unexploded shells still buried beneath. Only sheep graze the land! Trees now flourish and provide shelter which is in stark contrast to the barren land during the time of the fighting.
But what really hit me was the Remembrance Day Service held at the Vimy Ridge Memorial. While I’ve attended many school Remembrance Day Services and laid wreaths at cenotaphs before, I wasn’t ready for the flood of emotion I experienced in Vimy. Canadian student guides read letters from fallen soldiers at the service. The letters beamed with excitement as these young men looked forward to an adventure, an opportunity to serve their country. Many didn’t survive their first day of battle and those who survived lived with horrors that were unimaginable!
I don’t come from a military family and don’t have any veterans in my life. And so it is hard for me to fathom why young men (and now young women) would be willing to sacrifice their own lives. I can’t imagine as a parent watching my children go off to battle and not knowing whether they will ever come back. Looking at the sculpture of the mother who oversees the memorial with such sadness in her eyes reminds me of the tremendous sacrifice of our soldiers then and now.
November 11th will be forever different for me because of my experience at Vimy Ridge. Although a proud Canadian, I’ll stand just a little taller. And when I’m around veterans, they’ll deserve my respect even more. But for 6000-8000 Canadian students including a group from Holy Spirit, the Vimy Ridge tour must not be simply a historical event. It must be more; it must be a journey!
One of my learned colleagues made the statement that it will only be a journey, only be impactful, if we move students from thinking from the head to emotion in the heart and then to work with the hands. Students travelling to Vimy in 2017 must have some prior knowledge before they arrive. I will be working with our own teachers to ensure that this is part of the Vimy process, which will address the head piece. Addressing the heart can begin with simply linking our own veterans from the area to Vimy or connecting current events that parallel the conflict of the Great War. I really don’t worry about impacting the heart of our teenagers, who have a much better understanding of social justice than any generation previous. The transfer from the heart to hands is what will make the journey come alive. What students will do when they return home is the critical piece of the experience? How will they take the experience of Vimy and promote social justice, seek peaceful solutions in their world and ultimately make a difference in the world of others? The actions of our students will demonstrate that the event has moved from head to heart to hands and the journey has begun!
EF Educational Tours has organized an impactful program. It will allow our students to interact with other students from across the country, share experiences and develop a coalition of global and ethical citizens. It is an educational experience that will help shape our youth and strengthen our communities. It will be a journey and not just an event!