Vimy Ridge is arguably the most famous Canadian war memorial and it’s meaning has been built up and modified generation after generation, circling around this idea of Canadian identity. Initially it existed as a site for Canadians seeking out proof that their sons, husbands, fathers, and brothers were not sent to die in the First World War for nothing. Now the memorial seems to have evolved to serve as a Canadian creation myth from which current generations of can idealize it as a key event integral to the inception of a Canadian nation.
This narrative never bothered me growing up, as it was a story of victory and supremacy; victory over the enemy and supremacy over our allies who could not take the ridge for the two years prior to our actions in the Battle of Arras. What has been dawning on me recently, especially in my last few years of study and as I converse more on the topic of memory, is the fact that memory is malleable, subjective, and can be created to serve a purpose. There are multiple memories for every event and unless these are all addressed an event can never truly completely be understood. With respect to Vimy Ridge, the stories of the British and the French are just as important as those of the Canadians but their efforts are less known to Canadians because it does not serve to focus on other countries when shaping a national identity. They made possible the advance from Vimy by securing neighbouring sites and pushing the front line to Vimy in the first place and the French, specifically Moroccan French, troops even made it to the top of the hill prior to the Canadians. However, this was before accurate artillery and other such wartime advancements and thus the Germans forced the French to retreat. By ignoring the extensive past and analyzing only microcosmic aspects of an event, we skew memory. Being aware of the fact that my memory has been shaped by nationalist intentions is irksome, but the discovery that I can be so easily manipulated to follow an imposed doctrine is fascinating.
Memory is not history as Geoff Hayes has been explaining to us throughout this trip. The Vimy Ridge Monument initially showed Canadians that they had accomplished something as a country and given the sheer size, elegance, and myth surrounding the memorial it is able to continuously evolve and become whatever the contemporary Canadian generation is lacking from their national identity. Memory therefore clearly establishes itself in our narratives not because it is true, but because it is what we need it to be.