This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. To commemorate, Halifax Citadel is hosting a weekend of events that aim to help Nova Scotians learn about Canada’s First World War history.
Throughout the weekend, the Army Museum and replica trench system will be open. Visitors can walk around and interact with soldiers from units all over Nova Scotia, stop by the army kitchen, or watch a film in the theatre. There will also be a visit from the commander of the Fifth Canadian Division, Canadian Army Cadets and members of the 25th and 85th Battalions.
Ken Hynes, a retired army major, is the curator of the Army Museum and has been working on The Road to Vimy Ridge exhibit for four years. He hopes visitors will walk away with a greater understanding and connection to the history of Vimy Ridge, especially since Nova Scotians had an important role in the victory.
“Every day here in this institution we try to do what we can to bring the memory of those soldiers long gone… alive,” he says. “They were real people just like you and me who did extraordinary things.”
In the early hours of April 9, 1917, four Canadian divisions (including the Nova Scotia Highlanders and the Nova Scotia Rifles) started the battle to seize Vimy Ridge from the Germans. On the same day at sunset, the Nova Scotian Highlanders fought for the highest point of the ridge, called Hill 145 (today the site of the iconic memorial), winning control. The battle ended on April 12, 1917, leaving 3,598 Canadian men dead and more than 7,000 wounded.
“Thousands and thousands of them never got to live out their dreams,” Hynes says. “I think it’s important for us to recognize the service and the sacrifice they gave so that we could stand here today and talk about it. Sometimes I get a bit emotional when I think about it.”
Families often donate artifacts and memorabilia that have been passed down to preserve the local history. “We take great pride in being able to take those donations and look after them so that the stories of the young soldiers who are now old men or now dead never die,” Hynes says.
The museum is also working on finding stories that are often left out of history books. Hynes believes that representation is important and wants everyone that walks through the museum to connect and relate to the stories.
“You got to tell the story of all of those women, thousands of women who served our country in uniform as nurses or as members of the Canadian women’s army corps,” he says. “You got to tell the story of black soldiers, of aboriginal soldiers.”
Hynes walks slowly around the room looking around at the artifacts and memorabilia they’ve collected, his footsteps echoing throughout the museum. “I love coming in here.”
ICYMI: In 2015, Halifax Magazine editor Trevor J. Adams visited Vimy Ridge, and shared these reflections.