Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise and support my colleague from Algoma—Manitoulin and his Bill C-227, an act to formally recognize Canada's important role in the World War I Battle of Vimy Ridge which raged in France from April 9 to 12, 1917.
I support the bill because I believe we should always do everything possible to remember and honour the efforts of our brave young men and women who fought and died in Canada's wars.
I come from a constituency with a very proud military tradition which predates the first world war. I am told that the cliffs of Dartmouth were used by General Wolfe to train his troops for an eventual assault on Quebec in the 18th century. As well, the Halifax harbour has been North America's staging ground for both commerce and war for the last 400 years. I know my constituents carry a deep respect for the accomplishments and sacrifices of our armed forces.
1917 is a very special year. It is a year that had a major impact on my city. During that year of the great war, while husbands, sons, brothers and sweethearts were away fighting in the muddy trenches of France, much of Dartmouth and north Halifax was destroyed by an explosion in the harbour of an ammunition ship bound for Europe.
Just imagine that, many of our fighting men and women in places such as the newly held Vimy Ridge survived terrible battles only to be told of the death of their loved ones in the largest explosion in history before the development of atomic weapons. Some of the damage from the Halifax explosion is still visible today. I am told that some of the ammunition still stored in the Bedford magazine dates back to that era as well.
The traditions which have been handed down from those times still live on in Dartmouth. Today the harbour is busy with the preparations for the imminent departure of the destroyer and command ship HMCS Iroquois . It is bound for the Persian Gulf as part of our contribution in the UN sanctioned battle against al-Qaeda and terrorism following the attacks of September 11.
That crew, like the soldiers who left Halifax harbour in 1916 to do battle on Vimy Ridge, sail off into unknown danger. I pray for their safe return and I know that everyone in this place offers their prayers as well.
The bill asks Canada to lower our flag to half-mast every April 9 in memory of the 3,598 young men who were killed and the 7,004 who were wounded on Vimy Ridge in that snowy April 86 years ago.
It is reasonable to ask why Vimy is so special, because Canadians have fought and died in many wars. Why is Vimy such a special day and battle to remember?
Many historians will argue that the Battle of Vimy Ridge gave Canada its right to act as an independent country both in war and subsequently in peace. They claim that on April 9, 1917 we became a really independent nation and that we paid the price in blood.
On April 9, 1917 after months of preparation, the Canadian Corps attacked the Germans on Vimy Ridge, an area which was considered to have great strategic importance as guns on that height threatened France's northern coalfields. The Canadians were sent to Vimy to force the Germans out and claim the area back for France. The battle ended four days later when the Canadians captured the ridge.
Claiming back Vimy Ridge was a great victory because it had been one of Germany's great positions and great strongholds in France. The Canadian Corps captured more land, guns and prisoners than the British during any of their earlier attempts. By the end of the fourth day, Canada had advanced 4.8 kilometres into enemy territory, taking 124 machine guns and capturing 4,000 German prisoners.
Unfortunately the attack took a heavy toll on Canadians. In all, 7,004 Canadians were wounded and 3,598 died at Vimy Ridge.
The final reason the victory was significant at Vimy Ridge was that the success of our soldiers encouraged our national pride. The battle of Vimy made Canadians proud of their young, independent nation. They were impressed that the men of the Canadian Corps represented many cultures from across Canada. Most of the men had enlisted as untrained volunteers. However by 1917 they were one of the world's most skilled and respected fighting battalions.
Canadians have reason to be proud of their hard won victory at Vimy Ridge. I am very glad to be standing here today and supporting my colleague across the House on this very important bill.