MSS students will ‘set stage’ for Vimy Ridge Centennial this spring

by Stacey Lavallie

M’CHIGEENG—Not only will students from Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) be flying to Europe to experience the memories of both the First and Second World Wars, they will be setting the stage for the 100th anniversary of the Canadian troops’ storming of Vimy Ridge, tour coordinator Dave Robinson explained.

Students and their parents gathered in the high school’s library on March 1 to finalize their paperwork as well as learn about the trip’s itinerary. Each student has paid their own way, though the group has fundraised in order to pay for certain extras, like a trip to the Eiffel Tower.

Mr. Robinson, a retired history teacher from southern Ontario, started the tours almost two decades ago. Since then, he has signed on with EF Tours to make the touring a cross-Canada effort to include students on historical and educational tours revolving around the World Wars.

The Manitoulin students will be starting their trip in Amsterdam with a visit to the Secret Annex, the secret level of the building where Anne Frank, her father Otto, mother Edith, sister Margo and other family friends hid from the occupying Nazis.

From there, the students will visit the Holocaust museum and memorial, as well as the Auschwitz memorial, before gradually travelling to meet up with the several thousand other students taking part in the 95th anniversary of Vimy Ridge on April 9.

“It was the first time we fought together as a nation, under the command of our nation,” Mr. Robinson said of the First World War event. “Until that point, Canadians had fought as part of the British army, under British command.”

The ceremony will start with randomly drawn students lighting a Torch of Remembrance at Essex Farm, the place where the John McCrae penned the poem ‘In Flanders’ Fields.’ The torch will then be taken in a silent march of students to the Vimy memorial.

“We will need your help for this,” Mr. Robinson told the gathered students. “We will be setting a world record for the longest silent march of students in the world if no one speaks. All that should be heard is the marching footsteps and the birds.”

Mr. Robinson said it would take roughly 45 minutes for the parade to completely pass a single location.

Another part of the ceremonies includes partnering students and chaperones with two Canadian soldiers who died in the wars. The students will be able to stop at the different cemeteries to honour the fallen Canadians, including Manitowaning’s John Hughson. Mr. Hughson’s grave was partnered with his great-nephew, Jacob Noble. His father, Irving, is one of the trip chaperones.

The trip to Europe will be 17-year-old Jacob’s first trip overseas, though it isn’t his first trip out of Canada, he told The Expositor. He noted he is looking forward to seeing the grave of his great-uncle, but at the same time said he was not entirely sure what to expect.

“He actually died on his way to Vimy Ridge,” Jacob said. “I believe it was a trench raid. He was 28.”

The students, as part of the preparation for the trip, had to research the soldiers they were partnered with. They were required to learn important dates, such as ages, birth and death dates, as well as platoon numbers and battles fought.

“We had to find out if they had family, too,” Jacob revealed.

He noted the government had provided students with packages of information on their soldier and he was able to see copies of letters his great-uncle had written during the war.

Mr. Robinson explained that Canadians have a great hunger for their history, but that in Canada, only three provinces require Canadian history as a course in order to graduate from high school—Ontario being one.

“In Alberta, the civics course includes two days of First World War and two days of Second World War education,” Mr. Robinson revealed. “That’s it.”

He said the wars, tragic as they were, helped our country form in many ways, not just in uniting under one banner as a fighting force.

“Think about women’s liberation,” he said. “If the men hadn’t been at war, women wouldn’t have had to go work and wouldn’t have experienced that sort of life. It could have been years more before women pushed for equal rights. The wars pushed that reality ahead by years.”

In another five years, it will be 150 years since Canada’s birth and 100 years since Vimy Ridge, Mr. Robinson noted. He explained the Torch of Remembrance, lit by students on this trip, will then make its way to Canada where it will make its way across Canada before arriving at Parliament Hill for July 1.

“Our students will walk in the footsteps of the men and women who shaped our country’s legacy,” Mr. Robinson said.