Keynote

Ted Barris: "Victory at Vimy" - Story of the Birth of a Nation

The Americans called them “an inspiration … for a generation.” The British described what they did as “the greatest victory of the war.” The French declared their achievement an “Easter gift.”

What the world witnessed that Easter Monday morning – April 9, 1917 – was a near miracle of ingenuity, co-operation and courage among volunteers of the Canadian Corps. That day, 80,000 of them – fighting for the first time as a national army – swarmed up that strategic ridge in north-central France and in a matter of hours accomplished what no Allied army had, in nearly three years of blood-letting in Europe. They seized Vimy from an entrenched German army. Some say those young citizen soldiers also breathed life into a fledgling nation – Canada.

The year 2017 marks the 100h anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. As he has in most of his now 18 books, Ted Barris looks at the “Victory at Vimy” as the story of citizen soldiers, from salt-of-the-earth communities across the Empire, melding into an army that would become known as the “shock troops” of the Allied expeditionary force. Theirs was a task-oriented army since their rank and file had come from the workplaces of cities, farms, factories, mines, fishing villages and even the universities of the country. While they had been – for the first two years of the war – serving King and Empire, at Vimy the Canadians discovered a unique new purpose – fighting for Canada; or as one man put it, “At Vimy, I felt my first full sense of nationhood.”

In a talk/visual presentation, based on his book Victory At Vimy: Canada Comes of Age, April 9 – 12, 1917 Ted Barris reconstructs the blow-by-blow moments of that historic four-day operation, that some say changed the momentum of the war. It put Allied troops in control of the strategic Vimy heights for good. For the first time, it sent the most powerful army in Europe into full retreat. It also firmly established the four Canadian Infantry Divisions as the most effective fighting force on the Western Front.

The Victory At Vimy talk/presentation also unearths new material about the Vimy experience:

  • how Canadian officers broke all the rules training rank-and-file troops;
  • how Canadian artillerymen all but assured victory during the infantry assault;
  • the premonitions a Canadian sergeant awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously that day;
  • the vital role played by women medical personnel behind the lines;
  • how Canadian strategists disguised the entire operation; and,
  • how plans for the victory at Vimy nearly came undone just days before the main assault.

As Canadian and French officials prepare for 100th anniversary observances at the Vimy Memorial, on April 9, 2017, Ted Barris illustrates how Canada’s victory at Vimy was truly born in the heads and hearts of the Canadian communities whose sons fought there. 

 

Ted Barris is an award-winning journalist, author, and broadcaster. For more than 40 years, his writing has regularly appeared in the national press, as well as magazines as diverse as Legion, Air Force, esprit de corps, Quill and Quire, and Zoomer. He has also worked as host/contributor for most CBC Radio network programs and on TV Ontario. He is a full-time professor of journalism and broadcasting at Toronto’s Centennial College.

Barris is the author of 18 bestselling non-fiction books, including a series on wartime Canada: Juno: Canadians at D-Day, June 6, 1944Days of Victory: Canadians Remember 1939-1945Behind the Glory: Canada’s Role in the Allied Air WarDeadlock in Korea: Canadians at War, 1950-1953Victory at Vimy: Canada Comes of Age, April 9-12, 1917Breaking the Silence: Veterans’ Untold Stories from the Great War to Afghanistan. In June 2014,The Great Escape: A Canadian Story won the2014 Libris Non-Fiction Book of the Year Award (shared with astronaut Chris Hadfield).

In 2015, Barris released his 18th book Fire Canoe, a Mark Twain-like retelling of 19th steamboat history on Canada’s major western waterways. Set in a time when Mounted Police, fur traders, gold seekers and settlers mixed with aboriginal pilots, stevedores and crew, these first-hand tales depict a frontier Canada rife with speculation, gambling, rebellion and dog-eat-dog steamboat competition in the wild Canadian West. It’s said the coming of steamboats to the Western territories ensured that Canada would stretch from sea to sea.