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Vimy 2017 Day 5

Ugh. Day 5 children. I feel like a bag of poop; I know, wonderful analogy first thing in the morning Dave. It is what it is though. I fell asleep quick and slept well, but all those nights without sleep have caught up to me. Maybe it’s fitting that today is the April 9th, the day we go to Vimy and commemorate the 100th anniversary of one of the most important military (and otherwise) events in our country’s short history. I’m sure all of the those men were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as they crouched in those trenches. I guess I shouldn’t complain too much.

I was up at 0500, but I didn’t go to bed until almost 0030. The wifi at this hotel is not very good, and I had to spend a lot of time fiddling around with their blog, trying to upload pictures and getting them inserted into the post. I know, first world problems. Whatever the case, it is still an issue and my issue to deal with. I had to use some of the precious data on my phone to expedite the process after a lot of frustration using the wifi. I need to run right now and wake up the kids. I know they’ll appreciate the 0600 knock on the door from “Dadistel” (my latest nickname-thanks Ben Grassia).

It’s a crisp and clear morning. The sky is starting to lighten in twilight, as night gives way to dawn. I want to get a photo as the sun comes up. It’s supposed to be 23 today, very unlike it was 100 years ago, when the attack commenced in a blinding snowstorm. Hopefully I don’t burn in the sun.

Early morning in Lille, April 2017.

We are on the road right now, on our way to our drop off point. It’s a beautiful morning right now, a bit hazy, but it looks like it’s going to be a great day. The haze gives the countryside almost mystical feel. I think there’s a lot of mixed emotions as we head towards the Vimy site, probably not unlike was like 100 years ago. Maybe that gives us a little bit of a sense of what the soldiers were feeling before the attack.

So we’re here in the city of Liévin and we’re having our bus “fueled up” and “bombed up” for the celebration. Very fitting for the day; it’s almost like a military operation, with groups of people coming out bringing boxes of food and water for a bus. It’s going to be a long day at Vimy and we need all of this food and water to get us through the day. It really gives you an idea of the scope and magnitude of the celebration and all the planning that went into it, much like Vimy.

So it’s 10 o’clock now we’re in the city of Lens and we’re standing in a massive queue waiting to get the shuttle bus to go to Vimy Ridge. There are hundreds of people standing here…it’s just an amazing thing to be part of. There are groups people from all walks of life; military, civilian and police. I see members of the Canadian Grenadier Guards, Queen’s Own Rifles, cadets and many military members, current and former here waiting for the buses. Everything is proceeding with clockwork like precision.

Waiting in Lens, April 2017.

It’s now almost 1 o’clock and we’re sitting below the base of Vimy Ridge in the sweltering heat. It is unbelievable how many people are here, literally tens of thousands of people. It is a very different atmosphere than 2012. With the pouring rain we had that year, it was a very sombre affair and very sad. In some ways it feels like we’re at a rock concert with a very festive like atmosphere. I’m sure the tone will change when the time for the ceremony begins, but for now it feels a lot different than it has in the past. There’s almost like a whole village created here at the ridge; tents for VIPs, facilities, stands for the media and the display on the memorial itself.

The Memorial, April 2017.

The crowd at Vimy, April 2017.

The Vimy 100 ceremony, April 2017.

That was one of the best experiences of my life and quite possibly one of the worst. It was one of the most memorable experiences and one of the most nightmarish. I am completely and utterly exhausted and so is everybody else. I just want to go back to the hotel and go to sleep. The end of the day was absolutely crazy.

After hours of sitting in baking under the sun, the ceremony started at approximately 3 o’clock. There was a slight delay with the arrival of the dignitaries but after that they got everything started. It unfolded in 4 movements, each preceded by actors such as Paul Gross reading letters from the war. There were speeches from the Governor General, the Prime Minister and the Prince of Wales. Interspersed were performances by musicians and choirs and fly past of historic biplanes. As I mentioned earlier, it did feel more festive than in 2012, but there were moments of emotion, such as when the whole crowd, however many thousands were there, accompanied the band in playing “O Canada.”

With the kids clearly beat, and some bordering on the verge of heat exhaustion, we decided to duck out a few minutes early to get into the queue for the buses. Unfortunately we were hit with a double whammy. They blocked our exit from the front area of the monument (the part that faces east) just as we got there, and the reason they did, was all the VIPs, the GG, the Royals and the PM all passed by right where we had been standing. Had we stayed in that spot, we may have been able to meet them and certainly get some real good photos and video. Damn!

Once the ceremony was over, things got a little messy, definitely much less organized than the morning. We had difficulty leaving the area through the main exit and the crowd was very agitated after a long day in the heat. When they did let everyone through, we had a real hard time keeping everyone together and organized. This was very poorly organized on the part of the planners and created a great deal of stress. Fortunately we got everyone, in small groups, on the shuttle and back to the bus in Lens. I’m sure the kids will definitely remember their experience at Vimy 100 for many years to come.

We had dinner again at the hotel and everyone now is ready for bed. I think we all had a bit too much sun, very evidenced by sleepy behaviour and possibly sunburnt faces. I know that for myself, even after several applications of sunscreen, I am beet red in a few places that I missed. Tomorrow is a much more relaxed but early day, with visits to Albert for church, Beaumont Hamel and Arras. I going to turn in, but tomorrow’s a new day. Until then…

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Posted by on April 9, 2017 in History, Travel


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Enough already!

Yes, I’m angry. I’m angry and I’m tired. Confused? Well, I’ll explain. I’m referring to something that is on the mind of pretty much every Canadian right now, in particular the people living here in northwestern Ontario. Still confused? The weather-I’m talking about the freakin’ weather. Mother Nature can be a fickle mistress at the best of times, and at the moment she’s being downright nasty (I did want to use another word, but this is a family-oriented blog). It’s now the 9th of April and I’m tired of seeing snow. Go away already! It is bright and sunny today, but the temps are hovering around 5C, which is about 3 degrees below normal. We need it to warm up more and melt what’s left of the snow…maybe some warm rain will help (as opposed to the snow we’ve received in the past few days). So my fingers are crossed and I’m holding my breath and I’ll let Mother Nature try to redeem herself.

Fresh snowfall, April 2013.

Fresh snowfall, April 2013.

Morning "blizzard," April 2013.

Morning “blizzard,” April 2013.

*Gasping for air* Okay, so I can only hold my breath for so long, but you get the point. I’ll be anxious when we finally get some spring weather; the sooner the snow goes, the sooner hiking season starts! I already have a hike planned for the beginning of May, so I hope I can keep to that timetable. I guess it will be a wait and see game.

Today is April 9th; one year ago I was in France celebrating the 95th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. I can’t believe that it was that long ago. It was actually a miserable day. I spent the whole day on my feet, in varying degrees of precipitation, from mist to pouring rain. It made me really appreciate the sacrifice of the 3600 Canadians who died in the course of the battle. I have started looking forward to our trip next year and how excited I am to go back. Maybe the weather will be a bit more cooperative in 2014!

Vimy Ridge Memorial, April 2012.

Vimy Ridge Memorial, April 2012.

The major news on the railway front in the past week revolved around the Silver Mountain (and Area) Historical Society. Thanks to the graciousness of my fellow Co-President Shelley Simon, the society was able to share a booth with the Silver Mountain Station at the annual Thunder Bay Home and Garden Show. The event was held on the grounds of the Canadian Lakehead Exhibition (CLE), and we were located in the Sports Dome venue.

Shelley manned the booth all three days; with my wife in Winnipeg for the weekend (watching her “boyfriend” Jon Bon Jovi in concert), I could only chip in for part of the day on Saturday. That certainly was enough, for I was pretty beat afterwards. However, it was very worth it. We had a lot of visitors to the booth and they were very interested in the society; hopefully it will lead to more memberships. You can read more about the weekend here.

Society banner, April 2013.

Society banner, April 2013.

Visitors at the booth, April 2013.

Visitors at the booth, April 2013.

My final piece of news involves our attempt to preserve some of the history in the North-Gunflint Lakes area. Most of the land along that part of the border is crown land, but there are a number of privately owned parcels. Two of those parcels are for sale, and have been for quite some time. The society would love to have land revert to the province so they are open for all to use. Therefore this morning I mailed a very important letter.

The Ontario Heritage Trust is an organization committed to preserving the province’s rich cultural history. This includes such things as buildings and land. My letter was directed to their land acquisitions branch, hoping that they would consider purchasing the land for preservation purposes. Now I get to play to waiting game to see if I get a response, and if so, what the tone of the answer will be. Hopefully I won’t have to wait too long.

Anyway, time to move on. As usual, more to say next week. Until then…

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Posted by on April 9, 2013 in History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Research, Writing


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