Speakers and Abstracts

Vimy 2017 Speaker Biographies and Presentation Abstracts

 

Patrick Brennan

Dr. Patrick Brennan specializes in Canadian Military History and is the lead scholar at the University of Calgary on the history of World War One.

Abstract: Vimy Aside: A Very Hard Year for Canada: Class, Ethnicity and the Politics of National Disunity in 1917

Militarily, 1917 is best remembered as a year of unprecedented achievement for Canada, epitomized in the Canadian Corps’ stunning victory at Vimy Ridge.  But on the home front, it proved a sadly different matter. Plummeting enlistments and heavy casualties drove Prime Minister Robert Borden’s government, with widespread support among Anglo-Canadians, to introduce overseas conscription. Most Francophones (and many others) bitterly resisted the measure, plunging Canada into a dangerous national unity crisis. Moreover, an irrational but mounting fear of the ‘enemy within,’ class grievances inflamed by a deep sense of unequal wartime sacrifice, and a pervasive war weariness only added further strains.

 

Michael Epkenhans

Dr. Michael Epkenhans directs the Department of Research of the Center for Military History and Social Sciences at the German Armed Forces (the Zentrum für Militärgeschichte und Sozialwissenschaften der Bundeswehr – ZMSBw). He is one of the five presenters sponsored by this organization. He has written extensively on Germany in World War One.

Abstract: Overall Germany Political Situation in 1917

Dr. Epkenhans will examine the fundamental changes which occurred in 1917 which had a deep impact upon political and military developments: the Russian Revolutions in March and November, the entry of the US into the war, and the increasing domestic problems in many countries – the central powers and the Allies alike.

 

Gerhard Gross

Dr. Gerhard Gross is head of the research area “military history to 1945” at Zentrum für Militärgeschichte und Sozialwissenschaften der Bundeswehr (Centre for Military History and Social Sciences at the Bundeswehr). He has engaged in extensive research into German military strategy during the world wars and has also written on the histories of the German empire and the GDR.

Abstract: The German Strategy in 1917

Although Germany had survived the military crises of 1916, the Supreme Army Command was aware that the country’s operational and strategic concepts for the war were in urgent need of change due to the deterioration in the supply situation  as a consequence of the British naval blockade and the severe losses suffered by the German forces. It therefore decided on a mix of an operational defensive and a strategic offensive for the war year of 1917. It ordered the ground forces to go onto  the defensive, while, at sea, it mounted a strategic offensive as an unrestricted submarine war was launched. Simultaneously, it continued the efforts to destabilize Russia by military and political means in order to force a peace agreement. Immediately after the ceasefire with Russia was achieved, the preparations began for the decisive offensive on the western front that was planned for the spring of 1918.

 

David Fearon

Lieutenant-Colonel David Fearon MSM, CD, has extensive experience both as an officer in the Canadian Forces and as an academic in the field of military history. He joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1995 and transferred to the Regular force in 2001. An infantry officer with the Royal Canadian Regiment, he deployed on operational deployments to Bosnia and twice to Afghanistan. Lieutenant-Colonel Fearon served as Deputy Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment, Officer Commanding The Duke of Edinburgh’s Company, and Officer Commanding Foxtrot Company. He is a 2015 graduate of the United States Army Command and General Staff College where he received the Father Donald Smyth Award for Military History and a 2016 graduate of the United States Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Lieutenant-Colonel Fearon is currently Chief of Staff 31 Canadian Brigade Group.

Abstract: The Canadian Corps in the Great War: A Learning Organization in Action

On August 4, 1914 Canada found itself at war. While Canada had nearly complete control of its domestic affairs London still controlled its foreign policy. With only a small permanent force of 3,000 men, Canada found itself unprepared for war. By 1916, Canada’s Army had grown to an infantry corps of four divisions. The Canadian Corps accomplished a remarkable process of maturation considering its unimpressive beginnings and the effect of its high casualty rate throughout the conflict. Analysis of the Canadian Corps revealed that the Corps’ excellent performance during the war—particularly in the later years—resulted from its transformation into a learning organization. Supported by an organizational culture that encouraged and accepted change within the organization, the Canadian Corps possessed the traits of a learning organization, and demonstrated the expected behaviors of such an organization in its combat performance.

 

Mark Humphries

Dr. Mark Humphries has extensive research and writing on the First World War. He is an Associate Professor, the Dunkley Chair in War and the Canadian Experience and the Director of the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies. He received his Honours BA and MA in history at Wilfrid Laurier University and his PhD in history from the University of Western Ontario in 2009. As a researcher, he is primarily focused on the First World War and its aftermath, exploring the medical and social effects of war on people’s lives and the development of the state. He has extensively written on the 1918 influenza pandemic, shell shock, self-inflicted wounds, and domestic discontent as well as the operational history of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, including the life of Arthur Currie, tactics, and the experience of soldiers in the trenches.

Abstract: War’s Hidden Casualties: Shell Shock at Vimy Ridge

The Battle of Vimy Ridge occurred at an important moment during the evolution of psychiatric medicine during the Great War when the British Expeditionary Force was beginning to develop new means of regulating and controlling nervous illness within the ranks. The British and Canadian forces had been in the grip of what contemporaries called a ‘shell shock epidemic’ on the Somme in which upwards of 20% of casualties were attributed to psychological causes rather than somatic injury. By Spring 1917, the medical services had begun to restrict the use of that diagnosis and to centralize its treatment in special centres. Based on extensive research in Canadian, British, and Australian sources this paper argues that official casualty figures significantly under-represent the true extent of neuro-psychiatric illness at Vimy Ridge.

 

Hans-Hubertus Mack

Hans-Hubertus Mack, Commander of the Zentrum für Militärgeschichte und Sozialwissenschaften der Bundeswehr (Centre for Military History and Social Sciences at the Bundeswehr), is highly recognized for his numerous books and other publications on the Integration of German Forces into the European Defence Community, Military Education in Present Day Europe, Tradition and Development of German Forces After Reunification, and the History of Military Education in Germany. He is one of the five scholars that will be attending, sponsored by his organization. He will be giving a luncheon address expounding on the German perspective of Vimy Ridge and of World War One in general.

Abstract: Vimy Ridge

The German perspective on the Battle of Vimy Ridge is not one that is well known in Canadian Military history circles. This presentation will examine the battle from the German point of view and will place the battle in the context of the German political, social and military environments.

 

Mike Bechthold

Dr. Mike Bechthold holds a PhD in History from the University of New South Wales, Canberra, Australia and an MA & Honours BA from Wilfrid Laurier University. For 22 years, Mike was the Communications Director of the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies and the Managing Editor of Canadian Military History, an academic quarterly journal. Mike is the author or editor of eight books and numerous articles. His areas of specialization include military air power, the Canadian army in Normandy and Northwest Europe, and the Canadian Corps in the Great War. Mike currently teaches history part time at Wilfrid Laurier University and works full time at WLU Press as production coordinator and acquisitions editor in military history.

Abstract: Vimy and the Battle of Arras: The Evolution of the Air Campaign

The Battle of Vimy Ridge is almost exclusively considered a land battle where aircraft played minor roles in scouting and counter-battery work. Meanwhile, a parallel but separate air battle known as “Bloody April” was waged overhead where German pilots enjoyed significant technical and geographic advantages over their opponents resulting in very high losses for the British and French flying services. In reality, the ground and air battles were inextricably linked. The Royal Flying Corps under Major-General Hugh Trenchard made great strides towards the development of a modern air campaign. Prior to the battle, aerial reconnaissance provided crucial information for planning the battle, bombing raids were staged to interdict the battlefield, and attempts were made to blind the Germans by destroying their kite balloons. During the battle itself, contact flights ranged over the battlefield to provide communications from the front, continuous artillery patrols were flown which helped to direct artillery fire, and bombing missions were conducted against German targets in the communications zone. This was in addition to the fight for air superiority taking place over the battlefield. The RFC made a significant contribution to the outcome of the Battle of Arras though ultimately, there were major problems with this nascent air campaign. Nevertheless, it was an integral step in the development of air power in the First World War.

 

Bill March

Originally from Cornwall, Ontario, William March joined the Air Force in 1977 under the Regular Officer Training Program (ROTP).  In 1993, he completed his Masters Degree at the University of Victoria and was selected to recreate the position of Air Force Historian at 1 Canadian Air Division Headquarters for which he earned a Chief of the Air Staff Commendation. In 2008 he became the Academic Liaison Officer and the Senior Editor of the Royal Canadian Air Force Journal.  In 2011, he was deployed as the Lead for a Lessons Learned Team to Kandahar, Afghanistan, to examine the role of Canada’s Deployed Air Wing (Task Force Silver Dart), and earned a Wing Commander’s Commendation. Currently an Air Reservist, he serves as the RCAF Historian within the Directorate, RCA History and Heritage.

Abstract: A Not Insignificant Contribution: Air Power and Vimy Ridge

By the Spring of 1917, the Canadian Corps was a strong, well-trained and motivated force. It would go on to play a key role during the Battle of Arras in May 1917 and would gain international renown with its victory at Vimy Ridge. An important element in the Corps’ success during this period was the integration of British air power in virtually every facet of the battle. By this point, air power had become so important to the ground campaign that it was included in virtually all aspects of British army planning, training and actual combat. The Canadian Corps was no exception to this trend. This paper will examine the role of air power during the Battle of Arras in general and pay particular attention to how it was integrated within the Canadian Corps during the planning of, training for, and conduct of the assault on Vimy Ridge.

 

William Stewart

Dr. William F. Stewart is an independent researcher focused on the tactical, operational, and administrative aspects of Canada’s participation in the First World War. After a thirty-year career in senior management in the high-tech industry, William Stewart graduated from the University of Birmingham, UK, with a PhD. in 2012. Stewart examines the combat and administrative aspects of the CEF in the Great War. His book, The Embattled General published in November 2015, was based on exhaustive research from over 1,200 volumes of material, including many previously untouched sources and has been called a balance and just re-evaluation of Turner, identifying his merits as well as his flaws.

Abstract: Deployment to Employment: The Introduction of New Infantry Weapons in the Canadian Corps

Increased infantry combat power in comparison with the Somme was one of the critical factors in the success in the Canadian Corps at Vimy Ridge and the BEF. On the Somme, Canadian infantry had to rely on the artillery to defeat the Germans. Paradoxically, the infantry weapons introduced since the beginning of the war—-grenades, rifle-grenades, Lewis Guns, and Stokes Mortars—-were essentially identical on the Somme and at Vimy. What changed and was essential to the infantry’s renaissance was how the Canadians organized and employed these weapons. A new platoon structure and tactics improved the infantry’s capability to overcome resistance in the absence of artillery fire.

 

Markus Pohlmann

Dr. Markus Pöhlmann, of the Zentrum für Militärgeschichte und Sozialwissenschaften der Bundeswehr (ZMSBw), is one of the five scholars sponsored by his organization. He is best known for his works on German War planning 1911-1914, German Views on the War of the Future, German War Crimes 1914, Military Intelligence 1914-1918, and the Writing of Official Military History in Germany 1914-1956; this fall his massive second dissertation (Habilitationsschrift) dealing with “The Panzer and the Mechanization of War 1890 to 1945” will appear in print.

Abstract: A Portrait of the Soldier as a Young Man: Ernst Jünger at Fresnoy

“Storm of Steel”, the 1920 memoirs of the German writer Ernst Jünger, count among the earliest and most momentous pieces of Great War literature. Jünger served as a highly decorated junior officer on the Western Front. His accounts on the Battle of the Somme and the German Spring Offensive (1918) established an enduring — and politically viral — narrative of the battle-hardened stormtrooper. It is less known that the author also took part in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The aim of the paper is, first, to trace the writer’s involvement in the Battle of Arras and, second, to contextualize these events within the framework of his military biography. He argues that the events of April 1917 as depicted in Jünger’s book might also serve in a particular way to understand individual strategies of survival in Western Front warfare in a much more general sense.

 

Christian Stachelbeck

A veteran of the German Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan 2001-04, Dr. Christian Stachelbeck of the Zentrum für Militärgeschichte und Sozialwissenschaften der Bundeswehr (ZMSBw) is one of the five scholars sponsored by his organization. He is best known for his definitive history of 11th Bavarian Infantry Division 1914-1918, his history of the German army and navy in World War I, and his sweeping history of Imperial Wars since 1500. He is a well-known historian and will add depth and dimensions to his panel on Learning Applied.

Abstract: The German Army in the elastic defense in depth in the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917

In late 1916, the German 3rd Supreme Army Command decided to go onto a strategic defensive on the main front in the west. They developed the principle of elastic defense in depth which consisted of mounting a mobile and offensive defense that granted the forces limited room to withdraw, based on immediate counterstrokes by reserves. This doctrine, which was contested among German commanders, faced the crucial test when the Anglo-Canadian attack on Vimy Ridge/Arras was launched in April 1917. As a consequence of blatant leadership errors and a flawed implementation of the new principles, the German defenders lost Vimy Ridge at the beginning of the battle. Nevertheless, the allied breakthrough attempt ended in early May 1917 in failure and with severe losses. This paper shows how the German side learned from the battles at Vimy/Arras and optimized its system of elastic defense for the forthcoming defensive operations in 1917.

 

Geoff Jackson

Dr. Geoff Jackson recently completed his research on the Canadian 4th Division in World War One. He earned his PhD from the University of Calgary, during which he focused on the British 62nd Division and the Canadian 4th Division in the First World War. He is a senior Lecturer at Ambrose University and works as a consultant for the Partnership and Policy Branch at NATO.

Abstract: Training for Disaster: The British 62nd Division and the First and Second Battles of Bullecourt

This paper will examine how the BEF’s 62nd Division, an untested second-line Territorial formation, was readied for major operations in April and May of 1917. It will show that it did not have the luxury of the months of preparation time enjoyed by the Canadian divisions which would hone their capabilities. Rather, I shall demonstrate that the 62nd Division, both in terms of its own efforts as well as the support it received from the Corps and Army in                                  was unable to properly prepare for the battlefield tasks that would be asked of its officers and men.

 

Andrew McEwen

Andrew McEwen is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Calgary. His current research on the use of horses during World War One. He completed his Bachelor of Arts (Honours) at Queen’s University and his Master’s at the University of Waterloo. His dissertation, entitled “‘Maintaining the Mobility of the Corps:’ Horses, Mules, and the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps in the Great War,” examines the history of Canadian military veterinary and remount services from 1874 to 1921. He has published papers in The Canadian Army Journal, Canadian Military History, Western Humanities Review, as well as a chapter on the First World War Human-Animal Bond in The Historical Animal (Syracuse University Press, 2015).

Abstract: The Sacrifice of Horses:? The B.E.F. Animal Health Crisis, Spring 1917

February to May 1917 formed the most difficult period of WWI for horses, mules, and veterinary personnel of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). Veterinary officers, fearful of infectious skin disease, clipped animals of their winter coats in February and March. The animals, exhausted after labouring on the Somme, received little rest or respite. Fodder supplies dropped. Sleet soaked animals and turned roads into thick mud. These underfed and exhausted animals worked to death hauling ammunition and supplies forward. The Canadian Corps alone lost 25% of its animal strength in March-April. This paper explores the “winter of learning” and “learning applied” themes to exhibit that lessons learned did not always mean successful practices. Fears over skin disease — learned earlier in the war — prompted clipping animals. Combined with reduced fodder, inclement weather, and unrelenting work, the BEF’s animal transport system suffered greatly from its gravest crisis in the Great War.

 

David Thuell

David Thuell is a new scholar in military history and has always had a strong interest in Canadian Military history, dating back to grade school. However, while his career path took him in other direction he maintained his interest in Canadian military history and developed a keen interest in the First World War. After a few years of general study, he decided to go to Norwich University to get his Master’s Degree in Military History. He is current taking a break from his studies, as he only has his thesis left to complete, and he is looking forward to completing his degree sometime in 2016.

Abstract: Firepower, Mobility and Protection: Vimy Ridge

There are three principle elements that any army must master in order to succeed on the battlefield. These three principle elements are firepower, mobility, and protection. As part of the Battle of Arras, Vimy Ridge was no exception to this concept, and in order for the Canadians to successfully take Vimy Ridge from the German’s, they had to dominate the German’s in at least one of these three principle elements. By contrasting the tactics used by the Canadians at Vimy Ridge, against earlier tactics used by the British Expeditionary Force, it will be demonstrated that Canadians learned quite well how to dominate these principle elements of the battlefield, and take Vimy Ridge from the Germans.

 

Michael Neiberg

Michael S. Neiberg is the inaugural Chair of War Studies in the Department of National Security and Strategy at the United States Army War College.  His published work specializes on the First and Second World Wars, notably the American and French experiences.  His most recent book on the First World War is Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I (Harvard University Press, 2011).  The Wall Street Journal recently named it one of the five best books ever written about the war.  In October, 2012 Basic Books published his The Blood of Free Men, a history of the liberation of Paris in 1944.  In May, 2015 Basic published his Potsdam: The End of World War II and the Remaking of Europe.  In October, Oxford University Press published his Path to War, a history of American responses to the Great War, 1914-1917.

Abstract: Through Transnational Lenses: Allied Offensives

This paper will present an international and transnational history of the offensives that won the war. As with so much of the First World War, these offensives have largely been told through national narratives based as much in national myth as in reality. A century on, it is long past time to see the events of the war through wider lenses than the national ones. When seen in an international light, they become the model of 20th century strategy: coalition based, highly technological, and centrally directed. As such they preview the operations of the Second World War and the structure of NATO.

 

Rob Rutherdale

Dr. Robert Rutherdale is an expert in the political and social history of World War One. He has taught modern Canadian history at Trent University, Memorial University of Newfoundland, the University of the Fraser Valley, the University of Northern British Columbia, and the University of British Columbia, before joining the Department of History at Algoma University, where he has taught since 2003.  His articles on local responses in Canada wartime demands during the First World War have appeared in the Canadian Historical Review and Histoire Sociale/Social History.  He has also served as a consultant on early wartime mobilization for Images of a Forgotten War/Images d’une Guerre Oubliée, an online project launched in by the National Film Board of Canada/Office Nationa du Film du Canada.

Abstract: National myths and Pivotal Battles: The Case of Vimy

His work on local responses to Canada’s Great War examines public perceptions of the war overseas through studies of local parades, speeches, and the steady stream of newspaper reporting of a distant war overseas–a war imagined. His focus is  on the earliest reports of the significance of Vimy Ridge as a strategically important and symbolically significant event. With respect to the battle as a Canadian-led victory, one might assume that real power of this battle “imagined” came later, especially during the interwar period when popular images of Vimy helped fuel the powerful nation-building thesis that Jonathan Vance has considered. Through these contrasting accounts, he traces the origins of the battle’s most powerful symbolism back to first public stories in Canada of the Canadian Corps at Vimy, from descriptions of the fighting itself and ultimate victory to the earliest attempts to generate the meaning of Vimy for all Canadians.

 

Serge Durflinger

Dr. Serge Durflinger is a Professor of History at the University of Ottawa.  He specializes in Canadian military, naval, and diplomatic history as well as the history of veterans, commemoration, and the impact of war on ordinary Canadians.  From 1998 to 2003 he served as an historian at the Canadian War Museum. He is the author of the books Lest We Forget, a history of the Last Post Fund of Canada; Fighting From Home: The Second World War in Verdun, Quebec, and Veterans with a Vision: Canada’s War Blinded in Peace and War.  He is the co-editor (with Jeffrey Keshen) of War and Society in Post-Confederation Canada.  His latest book, co-edited with Douglas Delaney, is Capturing Hill 70: Canada’s Forgotten Victory of the First World War.

Abstract: Marring The Memory: The 1967 Vimy Ridge Commemorations Imbroglio And Canada-France Relations

Since 1936 Vimy Ridge has been the site of impressive annual commemorative ceremonies drawing highly visible participation by Canadian and French officials, veterans, and military contingents. Successive French and Canadian governments have referred to the battle, the Vimy Memorial, and the very site itself as representing the shared trials of war and the deep fraternal bond characterizing Canada-France relations. But in 1967, this harmony was shattered as Canada’s planned commemorative ceremonies to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the iconic battle proved a bone of contention between the two countries. Canada-France relations had soured throughout the 1960s, and what should have been an emotive opportunity to commemorate a signal event in Canadian history and pay homage to Canada’s war dead and its surviving veterans instead developed into a fractious debate and led to an embarrassing and much-noticed French boycott of the commemorations.

 

Carla Stokes

Carla-Jean Stokes has a Masters of History from Wilfrid Laurier University, as well as a Masters of Photographic Preservation and Collections Management, from Ryerson University. Carla-Jean won the 2015 Photographic Historical Society of Canada thesis prize for her paper, “British Official First World War Photographs, 1916-1918: Arranging and Contextualizing a Collection of Prints at the Art Gallery of Ontario.” She has also written blogs and articles for the Laurier Centre for Strategic and Disarmament Studies, and Espirit de Corps magazine. Her special collector’s edition, “War Photos,” was published by Legion Magazine in May 2016. She works as Curator and Collections Manager of the Historic O’Keefe Ranch, in Vernon, BC.

Abstract: The Larger Implications of Manipulated Images: The Taking of Vimy Ridge

Historians who study Canadian First World War photography often do so within the framework of commonwealth photographic programs, including the British and Australian wartime systems of information. Examples of this include Jane Carmichael’s First World War Photographers (1989) and Hilary Roberts and Mark Holborn’s The Great War: A Photographic Narrative (2014). One of the more frequently analyzed images of the First World War is William Ivor Castle’s The Taking of Vimy Ridge. This paper proposes to contribute to that historiography by illustrating the larger implications of this manipulated image–that photography projects of the Canadian War Records Office must be analyzed separately from those of the British Ministry of Information. Additionally, this paper will examine some of Ivor Castle’s other images made during the battle to argue that historians can move beyond The Taking of Vimy Ridge, to understand his photographic style as he attempted to visually capture the war.

 

Jack Granatstein

Dr. Jack Lawrence Granatstein was born in Toronto on 21 May 1939.  He attended Le Collège militaire royal de St-Jean , the Royal Military College, Kingston, the University of Toronto, and Duke University, served in the Canadian Army, then joined the History Department at York University, Toronto where he is Distinguished Research Professor of History Emeritus. Granatstein was a member of the Royal Military College of Canada Board of Governors, and from  1998 to 2000, he was the Director and CEO of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

Granatstein has been an Officer of the Order of Canada since 1996 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada since 1982. His book, The Generals (1993), won the J.W. Dafoe Prize and the UBC Medal for Canadian Biography. Canada’s National History Society named him the winner of the Pierre Berton Award for popular history (2004), and the Canadian Authors Association gave him its Lela Common Award for Canadian History in 2006. In 2008, the Conference of Defence Associations awarded him its 75th Anniversary Book Prize as “the author deemed to have made the most significant positive contribution to the general public’s understanding of Canadian foreign policy, national security and defence during the past quarter century.” He holds a number of honorary degrees.

Granatstein writes a column in each issue of Legion Magazine. He writes on Canadian national history–the military, defence and foreign policy, Canadian-American relations, the public service, and politics, and he comments regularly on historical questions, defence, and public affairs in the media and speaks frequently here and abroad.  He is the author of numerous scholarly and popular books and articles.

Abstract: Did Vimy Matter?

Vimy Ridge is the iconic Canadian battle in the public mind, a triumph of courage, and the creator of Canadian nationalism. But did Vimy matter tactically, strategically, or as the creator of the nation? This paper will look at who planned the April 1917 battle, who fought it, and what it meant in the long struggle of the Great War. That Vimy gave the Canadian Corps its recognition as an elite formation is evident, but what did Vimy really matter?

 

Tim Cook

Dr. Tim Cook is a noted Canadian military historian at the Canadian War Museum, an adjunct research professor at Carleton University, and a former director of Canada’s History Society. As one of the most prominent and successful Canadian military historians with many years of experience in the field, he was invited to participate in the conference. He has authored eight books, most of which have been long-listed, shortlisted or awarded for several prizes. His most recent books, a two-volume history of Canadians in the Second World War, The Necessary War (2014) and Fight to the Finish (2015), are national bestsellers and finalists for a number of awards.

Abstract: Birth of a Notion: The Idea of Vimy

Many Canadians ascribe to Vimy status far beyond that of a First World War battle. In fact, it is common to hear that Vimy is the “birth of the nation,” and the claim is repeated in the news and politicians, including the Governor General in 2013. Yet what is meant by this phrase? Do Canadians actually believe that Canada was born at Vimy, 50 years after Confederation? Moreover, where does the phrase come from? Was it uttered by soldiers at Vimy in April 1917, or later? This paper will examine this critical phase and untangle the memory strands that surround the battle and its changing meaning over the last 100 years.

 

Krista Cooke

Krista Cooke is an Assistant Historian at the Canadian War Museum, supporting the development of special exhibitions. Her presentation at the conference will highlight the upcoming exhibition on Vimy at the Canadian War Museum. She has a BA from Mount Allison University and an MA in History from the University of Western Ontario. Cooke also holds a Certificate in Museum Practice from the Association for Manitoba Museums and is a co-founder of the Canadian Association for Women’s Public History.

Abstract: Myth and Memory: Vimy 2017 at the Canadian War Museum (opens April 9 2017)

Next year marks Canada’s 150th anniversary as well as the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, an event often tied to Canada’s national narrative. In 2017, the Canadian War Museum (CWM) will recognize these anniversaries through a series of offerings related to the Battle of Vimy Ridge, including a 7000 square foot special exhibition. These historic examples will be presented as part of an interactive, participatory experience that will encourage visitors to reflect on conflict commemoration in their own lives. In using new exhibition techniques, the CWM will position itself as an innovator in the presentation and dissemination of Canadian history. This paper will provide an overview of the historical and material research underpinning the displays and a chance to see material culture related to the Battle of Vimy Ridge and its impact on Canadian society.