As anticipated, I believe the highlight of the program for many students was visiting the Vimy monument and the tunnels and caves constructed leading up to the battle on 9 April 1917. Although I was a bit disappointed at first that the weather was rainy and foggy, meaning the students would not get to see the view from the top of Hill 145, it turned out that we could not have asked for better weather. When we got off the bus and began walking towards the monument we could barely see the next person in front of us. This meant that the students didn’t see the monument as we approached it from afar, so it wasn’t until we were up close that the monument became visible through the fog. I think it allowed us to concentrate all of our focus on the sights and sounds immediately before us and reflect on the significance of the monument to our nation. The fog did lift later in the day so the students could appreciate the high ground we were standing on.
I decided to title this post “The Fog of Vimy” not just because of the literal fog we experienced today, but also because of the challenges of teaching about Vimy that I have discovered as a result of this program. Vimy certainly holds a central place in our country’s collective memory of the war, but the myths and “birth of a nation” narrative surrounding Vimy can cloud our understanding of the battle itself. So I think that for me, in order to emerge from the fog, I had to acknowledge those narratives and suggest reasons for why they exist, but also give more attention to other areas where the Canadians played an important (arguably a more important) role in the war. I think that as long as we encourage students to think critically about these narratives we have done our job as educators.