By Paul Everest/London Community News/Twitter: @PaulEverest1
To help mark the 95th anniversary of a battle that defined this country, hundreds of London students are heading to France this weekend.
Monday (April 9) is the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and roughly 250 students from four London schools are departing this week to join 4,000 students from across the country to represent Canada at commemoration ceremonies in Northern France.
Twelve students in grades 10 to 12 at South Collegiate Institute have been busy in the past three weeks getting ready for the trip and preparing a flag representing their high school that they will parade during a ceremony at Vimy Ridge on Monday.
The school’s Grade 11 fashion class created the flag and the students going on the trip signed the flag and wrote the names of a number of Canadian soldiers who served in the First World War on it.
Grade 10 student Paige Mol said she and her schoolmates researched the veterans from communities across Canada in preparation for the trip.
History is her favourite subject and Paige said she wanted to attend the trip as at least three members of her family served in the First World War and one of them may have fought at Vimy Ridge.
Adam Read, who is also in Grade 10, said other members of his family have travelled to Europe in the past to visit battlefields where Canadians fought in the two World Wars and he wants to have the same experience.
He said he plans to take history throughout high school and the story of Vimy Ridge interested him because of how the battle changed Canada.
Taking part in marking the 95th anniversary of the battle, he added, is a special honour.
“Just being a part of that day is going to be historically significant.”
The other London schools taking part in the trip are Clarke Road Secondary School, Oakridge Secondary School and Sir Frederick Banting Secondary School.
Anniversary ceremonies will take place at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial and adjoining cemeteries and Canadian students attending will wear red sweaters bearing the word Canada on the back along with an illustration of the memorial.
During the main ceremony Monday afternoon, a number of students and teachers will light an eternal flame of remembrance.
More than 100,000 Canadians took part in the battle, which began the morning of April 9, 1917.
Nearly 3,600 Canadians were killed and another 7,000 were wounded, but the four Canadian divisions taking part in the battle were successful in capturing the ridge from the Germans.
The battle is widely considered to be a watershed moment for Canadian nationality and united the country at the time.
EF Educational Tours organized the trip and altogether 146 groups from schools, communities and cadet organizations across the country are attending.
Dave Robinson, a retired teacher from Port Perry, Ont., and an educational consultant for the company, said this trip is meant to enhance what students are learning about history in the classroom.
“The most effective way to reach students is through experiential learning,” he said, adding that what the students will see in Europe will benefit them more than what can be found in a textbook or movie.
Robinson has been taking students—roughly 16,000 in total— to the battlefields of Europe since 2004.
While all of the students will converge on Vimy Ridge on Monday, different schools have different itineraries for the rest of their time in Europe.
Other countries that some groups will visit include England, Holland, Germany, Turkey and Italy.
The group from South Collegiate Institute will take part in a special memorial ceremony for Canadian soldiers at Green Park in England before heading to Vimy Ridge.