For about a decade, students from Ponoka Secondary Campus have been learning about local heroes and this country’s storied military history.
This year proved to have some far-reaching significance for the group of students that were part of the 2017 Broncs World Tour, as the group was able to participate in a historic event — the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
The attack conducted by four divisions of Canadians and one British division (totalling 170,000 men) began at 5:30 a.m. on Easter Monday April 9, 1917 and would conclude three days later with the final division capturing its objective in the snow and wind.
Overall, there were 3,598 Canadian fatalities — the single greatest military loss for the country.
Social studies teacher and main organizer for the tour, Ron Labrie, along with many of the students that took the tour, and a large of number of the public turned out at the event April 9 at the Ponoka Royal Canadian Legion to commemorate the anniversary.
“The legacy left is that Vimy was a much bigger battle than first thought and the toll it took on the Canadians was devastating,” Labrie told the packed Legion crowd.
“If you take a look at the casualties from a per-capita basis now, that would be equal to about 55,000 deaths. While there is no doubt of the success of the battle, the enormity of the sacrifice I believe, had some unintended consequences back home. It caused the most divisive political discussion ever in Parliament which led to Canada instituting compulsory military service.”
While the students in the group conducted research during the school year on soldiers from the area, one student went even farther in honouring all of the Canadian personnel involved in the conflict.
Kianna Green never really planned on coming up with what has turned into a commemorative poster, but she simply wanted to do something to recognize and remember all of the soldiers.
Green used the names of the 11,285 Canadians that are inscribed on the Vimy Ridge Memorial to create a unique painting of the monument, some of whom have no known grave and were listed as missing or presumed dead.
“It was an honour and a privilege to write those names in memory of today’s anniversary,” Green said, pausing several times and choking back her tears.
“Knowing the sacrifices made, I wanted to recognize them in a way so that they would always be remembered.”
Green estimated it took between 90 to 95 hours over four months to painstakingly print all of the names.
“I had relatives and friends experience (the tour). I’ve always had an interest in Canadian war history, so when I got the chance I wanted to go,” she said.
“Visiting Vimy is special for every Canadian, and for me, it was certainly more of an emotional reaction. I think going showed me the magnitude of the battle.”
There was also a bit of a surprise for Green before the trip began, as her painting was scanned and turned into a poster that not only made it to schools across Canada, but wound up making it over to Vimy courtesy of other schools around the country that also trekked to the historic battle site for the anniversary.
“I was glad to see that as I would rather have it shared and see those soldiers kept alive and remembered than just have it kept here,” Green added, “I just hope that it inspired others to pursue something to remember them.”
Having a packed house for the presentation was just one positive of the event, explained Ponoka Legion president Barb Olsen.
“It was really gratifying to see the interest, the passion and the effort put into the tour, researching the soldiers and creating the poster,” she said.
“For the veterans that were here, to see all of that done by the youth to help continue remembering those sacrifices, it was important just as much as it was for the community to listen.”
The majority of the program focused on what the students did as part of the tour and what that experience meant to them. There were also a couple of videos played to show the effect Canadians still have on the French town of Vimy today plus a look back at exactly how the tactical military strike achieved its success.
The group wound up its 10-day tour on April 1 with the highlight being the visit to the Canadian Vimy Memorial site in addition to cemeteries where Canadian soldiers are laid to rest nearby. The group also visited sites in France and Belgium while also getting an opportunity to take in Paris and London.