Stephanie Nowak and students from around the world visit Vimy Ridge.

An international lesson in Canadian history

Stephanie Nowak, 17, hopes students will take the time to apply for a chance at a firsthand history lesson.

A Grade 12 student at Earl Marriott Secondary is urging her fellow students to apply for an annual scholarship focusing on one of Canada’s most significant battles.

Stephanie Nowak, 17, says she hopes students will take the time to apply to the Vimy Foundation’s flagship program, the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize competition.

The winners of the competition will receive a two-week trip to Europe to learn about the Canadian victory over the Germans during the First World War at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.

Nowak, who went on the trip this past summer, told Peace Arch News this week that many of her classmates were discouraged to apply last year because of the requirements – which include a 1,500-word essay – but that those who didn’t apply missed out on a great experience.

“A lot of people didn’t want to go through the application process, but what motivated me was the fact that you receive two weeks in Europe, all paid for, and you get to meet kids from all over the world,” said Nowak, who was the only teenager from B.C. to win the award last year.

“You really get to learn about the war firsthand, which is more productive than learning in history class.”

During the trip, which included stops in England, France and Belgium, the 13 students visited historical landmarks including the Cabinet War Rooms in England, where then-prime minister Winston Churchill devised battle strategies during the war.

“Our teacher had us think about how the battle was fought from underground, in this tiny enclosure, and how different it is to the wars we have now,” Nowak said.

The students also travelled to Belgium, seeing remnants of the war strewn across the landscape, serving as a constant reminder of what had occurred years before, she said.

“Travelling through the countryside, you can see the remains of churches that have been bombed and there are all these remembrances of the war. Those people are reminded every single day about the war,” said Nowak.

“There are craters in the ground still – it was shocking to see, whereas in Canada we don’t see that on a day-to-day basis.”

Near the end of the trip, the students went to Arras in France to see the Vimy Ridge memorial. Despite the memorial being dedicated to Canadians who died in the historic battle, Nowak said that very few Canadians visit the site – another reason why it’s so important to get involved with Canadian history.

“Vimy Ridge is the nicest and biggest memorial to any allied force in World War I – and the Canadians got that in Europe – but out of people who go to visit, Canadians are the minority,” Nowak said. “That’s the whole reason they have the prize, to have people to remember this and the story behind it – how Vimy Ridge was the start of Canadian identity coming together.”

According to the Vimy Foundation website (www.vimyfoundation.ca/vimyprize), the competition also builds upon the legacy of Lord Beaverbrook – a prominent Canadian historical figure who rose up from a modest background to become a newspaper publisher, government minister and a friend of Winston Churchill.

Students interested in applying for the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize this year have until Dec. 31 at midnight to apply.

Applicants must be born in 1995-’97 and must be younger than 18 on Aug. 31, 2012.

Students who apply must also have a 70 per cent grade average at school and proven leadership skills.

Those who win the scholarship will depart for Europe Aug. 7 and return Aug. 21.

 

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