Vimy didn’t inspire then

Editor:

Re: An international lesson in Canadian history, Nov. 3.

I enjoyed Earl Marriott Secondary student Stephanie Nowak’s comments.

Editor:

Re: An international lesson in Canadian history, Nov. 3.

I enjoyed Earl Marriott Secondary student Stephanie Nowak’s comments about Canada’s involvement in Europe in the First World War.

I would like to make a few remarks. First, Winston Churchill was not the prime minister at that time; he was First Lord of the Admiralty.

Second, was Vimy a watershed moment in Canadian identity?

Victory on the ridge notwithstanding, Canadian prime minister Robert Borden was convinced the fate of the British empire was in jeopardy and promised London more soldiers.

Conscription was the issue in the 1917 election, and Borden would tolerate no opposition to his policy.

So certain recent immigrants, their loyalty suspect, were disenfranchised, and the vote given to mothers and wives of serving soldiers. There was even a scheme to put overseas soldiers’ votes into handpicked ridings.

Significant resistance confronted conscription all across Canada. Ontario farmers marched on Ottawa, demanding exemptions for their sons, and riots broke out in Quebec.

As it turned out, conscription failed to produce significantly more recruits than voluntarism, and even by 1918 almost half of the Canadian Expeditionary Force was still British-born.

Whatever its virtues, Vimy did not provide inspiration for the commitment and sacrifice needed to get more men in the trenches any more than “imperial patriotism” did.

Space and time may prevent many from visiting the Vimy memorial, yet I wonder how comfortable Canadians are in accepting a blood-and-guts battle as a foundation of their national identity.

Bob Burgel, Surrey

 

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