Vimy Ridge Day Act

An Act respecting a national day of remembrance of the Battle of Vimy Ridge

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.

Sponsor

Brent St. Denis  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of June 18, 2002
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Vimy Ridge Day ActPrivate Members' Business

June 18th, 2002 / 5:55 p.m.
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Sault Ste. Marie Ontario

Liberal

Carmen Provenzano LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, at the outset I would like to acknowledge the efforts of my colleague from Algoma—Manitoulin for bringing this matter before the House and in particular the efforts of his constituent, Robert Manuel, who initiated this entire process.

Over the years, hon. members have debated a wide variety of motions and bills tabled by both government and opposition members, all aimed at raising the commemorative profile of Canada's veterans. Most recently our discussions have been concerned with the funding of maintenance and repairs of local cenotaphs. In that regard, I would draw the attention of the House to Motions Nos. 383 and 384 and the promotion of the observance of two minutes of silence on Remembrance Day, Bill C-297.

If I recall correctly, the debate on these two issues expanded into a broader discussion. How we can best honour the memory of those who served and sacrificed their lives for their nation? How do we preserve and promote their legacy for future generations of Canadians? In many ways, the discussion on this bill is a continuation of that broader debate.

Bill C-409 deals with a very particular day in Canadian military history, April 9, 1917, when the Canadians, fighting as a cohesive unit for the first time in the Great War, fought the enemy at Vimy Ridge and did what no allied force had been able to do. They won, and in so doing affected the outcome of the war and our place on the world stage. In fact, few events in our military history have played such an important role in the development of the Canadian nation as the battle of Vimy Ridge. It was indeed the first time that all four divisions of the Canadian corps fought together, but it would not be the last. Before the war ended, Canadian courage and prowess had won recognition in the Imperial War Cabinet and a seat for Canada at the peace conference at the war's end

Eighty-five years later, it is perhaps time to give this battle a particular significance through the means suggested by Bill C-409, proclaiming April 9 every year as Vimy Ridge Day and lowering to half-mast the Canadian flag on the Peace Tower.

We are pleased to offer our support to the bill.

We would not want to give the impression with the passage of this bill that the sacrifices made on a particular day in history are somehow more worthy than those made in any other campaign in any of the wars we have participated in.

There is also the possibility of setting an unintended precedent. If Vimy Ridge, which is a specific battle in the first world war, is honoured with its own day, can we expect to receive an increased demand for recognition of days to honour battles from other campaigns and other wars? If we do, how will we deal with them?

Despite these cautionary notes, we all acknowledge that there is something quite extraordinary about the action at Vimy, which led to equally extraordinary results for Canada as a nation. The participating battalions reflected the length and breadth of our country from west to east. Brigadier-General Ross would later talk of witnessing the birth of a nation. General Byng described a nation tempered by the fires of that sacrifice.

In dedicating the Vimy Memorial in France in July 1936, King Edward VIII declared “We raise this memorial to Canadian warriors...It marks the scene of feats of arms which history will long remember and Canada can never forget...All the world over there are battlefields, the names of which are written indelibly on the pages of our troubled human story. It is one of the consolations which time brings that the deeds of valour done on those battlefields long survive the quarrels which drove the opposing hosts to conflict. Vimy will be one such name.”

As it was then. As it is now. It is with such sentiments, which still ring true, that we can say the anniversary date of the battle of Vimy Ridge is worthy of its own special recognition, as suggested by the bill.

A second caveat is more technical in nature but important nonetheless. It revolves around the flag lowering part of the bill. It is critical that the protocol we follow in lowering the flag of the Peace Tower of the parliament buildings is no different from the one we use on Remembrance Day. The flag should be flown at half mast from 11 a.m. in the case of Remembrance Day to coincide with the start of the ceremony at the National War Memorial. It should remain so lowered until sunset.

The same provision should apply for a national day of remembrance for Vimy. I am not sure if this should be spelled out in the bill, dealt with by regulation or merely implemented by practice. Whatever the case, I am sure hon. members will agree that the standards for flag lowering for Vimy must not exceed those we use on Remembrance Day.

While these cautionary and common sense thoughts must be borne in mind we in our party are pleased to support Bill C-409. I will close with the words of the Minister of Veterans Affairs at the National War Memorial last April 9 in recognition of the 85th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge. He said:

--we will not much longer have eye-witnesses to tell the tales of what happened at Vimy. The torch of remembrance is now passed to us so that our children, and our children's children are taught the story of how on a cold wet Easter Monday morning, in the second decade of the 20th century, thousands of Canadian soldiers, at great personal sacrifice and loss, won a great victory. Their deeds that day ring down through history. Their photos, now faded and yellow with age, still rest on mantels of family members across the nation. But never faded from our history will be their gallant actions. We must never forget the story of Vimy Ridge or the men who fought there. We shall continue to cherish their values of peace, freedom, tolerance and diversity.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge shall continue to inspire a nation. We will remember them always. Those sentiments say it all. Bill C-409 should be passed by the House.

Vimy Ridge Day ActPrivate Members' Business

June 18th, 2002 / 5:40 p.m.
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NDP

Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to speak to and endorse Bill C-409 put forward by the hon. member for Algoma--Manitoulin. The bill would institute a Vimy Ridge day to commemorate the important contributions made by the Canadian armed forces in the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

I agree with the distinguished member who spoke before me. Whenever we have a debate about recognizing the military and the people who have fought for the country we realize the importance of financially assisting the legions. I too hear constantly about the need of legions to fix leaky roofs, put in elevators, build ramps for veterans with disabilities and deal with continuous problems of infrastructure. I am sure all members in the House deal with the issue on a regular basis. Having days of commemoration and celebration is important, but it is also important to put money into the legions. They are the heartbeat of the memory of our armed forces and their contributions to world peace.

I stand here today on behalf of my hon. colleague from Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore who was not able to participate in the debate today. He had to return home to be with his daughter. She broke her hand and needs to have her dad by her side. I will be a weak replacement for the hon. member but will do my best.

In preparation for the debate tonight I came upon an account by Tom Morgan who wrote a document called “Vimy Ridge--80 Years On...” which contains some eloquent words describing the battle. I do not think anyone could say it better. Morgan described what the battle really meant to Canadians and the people involved:

April 9th., 1917--Easter Monday--dawned cold, with freezing rain and sleet. The ground conditions were very bad, with slippery mud waiting to hamper the Canadians as they began their assault. Heavily laden, the men began to cross the shattered No-Man's Land, skirting as best they could the shell-holes and craters, until they came to the muddy, slippery slopes of the Ridge itself. They advanced behind a creeping barrage--a curtain of falling shells which crept forward just ahead of them. At key places in the advance, fresh troops took over the lead, until by the middle of the afternoon, three of the Canadian divisions had captured most of Vimy Ridge. By the next day, Hill 145 was also in Canadian hands, leaving just a few isolated outposts. By April 12th these, too had been taken and the Canadians' victory was complete.

After three years, the Germans were now driven from Vimy Ridge. There was to be no breakthrough, however, as the Canadians were unable to get their artillery out of their positions and across the muddy, shell-torn ground of the battlefield. However, they had captured more ground, more prisoners and more guns than any previous “British” offensive in the war thus far. It was the greatest Allied Victory yet.

Although the victory at Vimy came quickly, it did not come without cost. Of the 10,602 Canadian casualties, there were 3,598 dead. This is a high and tragic number, but it must be compared with the 200,000 Canadian, British, French and German dead who lie buried on the ridge from earlier, unsuccessful attacks. And the Canadians alone lost 24,000 killed or wounded on the Somme the previous year.

For Canada, the attack on Vimy Ridge marked a turning-point in the country's march towards distinct nationhood. In the words of Brigadier-General Alexander Ross, DSO, who commanded the 28th (North West) Canadian Battalion at Vimy, “It was Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific on parade. I thought then that in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.”

The hon. member for Algoma--Manitoulin says we need a day of remembrance and heritage to mark the importance of the battle in Canadian and world history. I agree wholeheartedly. I also agree with Motion No. 409. I am honoured to be part of any measure that would recognize the great contributions of the Canadian forces at home and abroad, past and present, in maintaining peace and providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Over the years in my riding of Dartmouth I have been honoured to be part of special days with veterans and peacekeepers, people who carry the scars of their struggle for democracy in their bodies and minds. I have been with families on the Halifax jetty as they said hello or goodbye to loved ones leaving for tours of duty in a violent world. I was honoured to be present at the funeral of Nathan Smith, one of our Princess Pats killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. He was a young man who loved soldiering, his life, his country, and the values of freedom and justice which he held deep in his soul.

Vimy Ridge day would join with Remembrance Day, D-Day and the many other days of the year on which we remember to thank these brave and selfless men and women for their love of and loyalty to this great country.

Vimy Ridge Day ActPrivate Members' Business

June 18th, 2002 / 5:30 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the mover of the bill. I am sure that every branch of the legion in communities from coast to coast to coast will be pleased with it. All of the legion branches in my riding know about the bill.

As I said this morning, I have been around a long time. I was a principal during the 1960s and during that time there was a battle going on. Part of that battle was that we were not getting the support nor were our veterans getting the support that they deserved. Our national media carried all kinds of documentaries which said for example that Billy Bishop was not a good flyer or that our air force was no good, that they dumped their bombs and went home. Everything possible was done to try to destroy things and I had to fight it. Finally we have a book that should be in every library. I am proud to have the book No Greater Glory which is signed by Barney Danson, a former minister of veterans affairs. Every school should own a copy.

I would like the member who moved the bill to imagine the impact if all grades in every school division across Canada paused and took the time to consider the importance of this date. We would make sure that this was on Vimy Ridge Day.

I want to read what appears on the veterans affairs website:

The Canadian success at Vimy marked a profound turning point for the allies. A year and a half later, the Great War was over. The Canadian record, crowned by the achievements at Vimy, won for Canada a separate signature on the Versailles Peace Treaty ending the war. Back home, the victory at Vimy, won by troops from every part of the country, helped unite many Canadians in pride at the courage of their citizen soldiers, and established a feeling of real nationhood.

I believe Bill C-409 would have an impact .

With respect to the flag and naming the day, I too have a bill, if it ever gets drawn, that would put even more teeth into the present bill. My bill would require that not just the Peace Tower fly the flag at half-mast in November but that all federal government buildings from coast to coast to coast do it.

I would suggest to the House that this bill will pass after it comes back from committee. I would suggest to my colleague and other members opposite that if my bill ever makes it and it becomes votable, it too will pass.

Congratulations to my hon. colleague for a bill well presented, a bill which we on this side of the House unquestionably support. We will send it to committee with our blessings. Let us hope that it becomes part of our heritage, something that we always protect when it comes to our military successes both in World War I and World War II.

Vimy Ridge Day ActPrivate Members' Business

June 18th, 2002 / 5:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Brent St. Denis Liberal Algoma—Manitoulin, ON

moved that Bill C-409, an act respecting a national day of remembrance of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is my distinct honour to begin the debate on Bill C-409, which if enacted by parliament would set April 9 of each year as Vimy Ridge day.

This day would not be a holiday, but rather a day to recognize an important part of our national history, a World War I battle which occurred on April 9, 1917. This was a battle months in the preparation and included for the first time since Confederation Canadian troops operating under Canadian command. Up until that time Canadians had been part of British units under British command.

At Vimy Ridge we fought as one national team with Canadian leadership. Our soldiers, while suffering significant casualties and loss of life, accomplished a feat that other Allied forces had failed to do up to that point in World War I. There were about 10,000 Canadian casualties, including about 4,000 killed at Vimy Ridge that day. It is a battle recognized by many which opened the way to the eventual victory in World War I by Allied forces.

I would like to quote a piece of historical text. It states:

The Canadian share of the British assault was the seizure of Vimy Ridge. The task was formidable. For the Germans it was a vital key in their defence system and they had fortified it well. The slopes which were in their favour were interlaced with an elaborate system of trenches, dugouts and tunnels heavily protected by barbed wire and machine guns, and defended from a distance by German artillery. They had even installed electric lights, a telephone exchange, and a light railway to maintain supplies of ammunition. All previous attempts to take the Ridge had failed.

The attack began at dawn on Easter Monday, April 9. All four divisions of the Canadian Corps - moving forward together for the first time - swept up the Ridge in the midst of driving wind, snow and sleet.

A situation we could hardly imagine today. It continues:

Preceded by a perfectly timed artillery barrage the Canadians advanced. By mid-afternoon the Canadian Divisions were in command of the whole crest of the Ridge with the exception of two features known as Hill 145 and the Pimple. Three days later these too were taken.

The victory at Vimy Ridge is celebrated as a national coming of age. For the first time Canadians attacked together and triumphed together. Four Canadians won the Victoria Cross and Major-General Arthur Currie, commander of the 1st Division, was knighted on the battlefield by King George V.

Canada's conquest at Vimy Ridge won Canada a place as a signatory at the treaty of Versailles. Canadians have fought many great battles as members of other national units or under Canadian commanders over the decades and we honour all those veterans who survived and those who were lost.

To honour the battle at Vimy Ridge is to honour all battles as April 9, 1917, is the first time that Canadians fought side by side as Canadians under one Canadian commander. Most important, there were some 100,000 Canadians from coast to coast. There were four divisions involving brigades from every region of the country. The four Victoria Crosses were spread across the country including a recipient from Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario.

To honour Vimy Ridge is to honour all great battles involving Canadians. Bill C-409 would accomplish two things. It would be a day of remembrance, a day of heritage. This day would not be a holiday, but a day where young people could be reminded each year, as part of the evolving remembrance season that we see in this country, of the tragedy, terror and heroism of war, and the necessity to move forward looking for peace at all times.

The bill also asks that the Peace Tower flag be flown at half-mast on that day. I will ask the committee, if the House agrees to send the bill to committee, to accept a friendly amendment to make the flying of the flag at half-mast to be from 11 a.m. to sunset, to be consistent with Remembrance Day. That is something the committee could consider after the fact.

It is important to note that the bill has the support of the Royal Canadian Legion, Dominion Command. I also have dozens of letters from individual legion branches, private citizens, municipal councils and others offering their support for this initiative.

At this point I wish to explain why I initially introduced the bill. It was thanks to a constituent of mine from Elliot Lake, Ontario, Mr. Robert Manuel , a member of the local legion branch who recognized how important the Battle of Vimy Ridge was to Canadian history, not just military history. He wrote countless letters seeking support for this initiative and presented the letters and petitions to me.

It is very appropriate and true to the intent of private members' bills that issues which arise from the grassroots of Canada come to seize the attention of Canada's parliament. It is important that the House know that this was not a late night idea brought forward by this member of parliament. It was brought forward by a constituent who consulted with his fellow peers. He obtained letters of support and brought the issue forward. It is my duty and privilege to bring forward the fruits of those labours as Bill C-409.

I wish also to point out that I do not intend to create a precedent with Bill C-409 by suggesting that all great battles be recognized by a special day. Rather it is my intent to give the Battle of Vimy Ridge a special place because as many have come to agree, it was the beginning of Canada's march toward nationhood.

I appreciate the opportunity to add a small part to the important efforts of war remembrance in Canada. I pay further respect to our veterans, their legions and those who lost their lives in battle or peacekeeping and in fact to our military today by bringing forward Bill C-409. We owe a great debt of gratitude to our war lost and to our veterans. Each year, through what is a growing recognition of the importance of remembrance, our veterans bring us opportunities to come together in social gatherings and remembrance gatherings to make sure that the future of our nation is filled with peace. In doing so however, we must remember the tragedy and heroism of the wars behind us.

I want to be sure there is time for other members to speak. I seek the support of the House that eventually the bill will go to the appropriate committee. I look forward to the comments of other members who no doubt can add even more to this debate than I have been able to do in this short time.

Vimy Ridge Day ActRoutine Proceedings

November 5th, 2001 / 3:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Brent St. Denis Liberal Algoma—Manitoulin, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-409, an act respecting a national day of remembrance of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured, especially as we commemorate veterans week, to rise today to introduce a private member's bill which, if enacted by parliament, would create a special day each year on April 9 to recognize Vimy Ridge day. This would honour the memory of this great World War I battle of April 9, 1917, which is considered by many to be a turning point for our country and the beginning of Canada's march to nationhood.

For the first time Canadians from coast to coast fought under a Canadian commander. Their heroism and valour in that battle is legendary. In many ways it represents all great Canadian battles.

I wish to thank Bob Manuel of Elliot Lake for his support and the Dominion Command of the legion for its very strong letter of support.

I wish to emphasize that the bill would not create a holiday. It would simply create a day of recognition and asks that the Peace Tower flag be raised to half mast.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)