News Local

Vimy Ridge soil repatriation leaves lasting impressions

By Ian McInroy, Barrie Examiner

Canadian soldiers killed almost a century ago were honoured on Friday by local residents and Canadian Forces members during a moving ceremony at Vimy Ridge in France.

Arguably one of the most pivotal battles of the First World War, the Battle of Vimy Ridge was a first for this country, with all four Canadian divisions attacking together to take the heavily fortified seven-kilometre ridge in northern France.

They succeeded where French troops had failed, costing France more than 100,000 killed or wounded.

But the victory came at a heavy cost for Canada; 3,598 Canadians were killed and another 7,000 wounded.

Now, with the determination of Barrie businessman and Honorary Col. Jamie Massie and the financial contributions of local residents and businesses, soil recovered from the historic battlefield — and potentially DNA from Canadian soldiers who died there — will be honoured here in Canada.

Through the Borden Legacy Project, spearheaded by Massie and with contributions collected by the Barrie Community Foundation, soil from Vimy will be included in a new monument at the CFB Borden's Angus gate celebrating the base's 100th anniversary in 2016, as well as at the downtown Barrie cenotaph.

Massie said the soil repatriation ceremony at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial on Friday was an emotional and moving one.

“My grandfather lost his leg in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, so I guess you could say a part of my grandfather is still there," he said while returning from Pearson International Airport on Monday. "For me personally, this trip is an important tribute to not only my grandfather, but also to the (the veterans) and their families to show that their sacrifices are not forgotten.

"Having soil from the battlefields of Vimy in our community will be our way of bringing our troops home to their families and the community,” Massie added.

CFB Borden officials, Massie and a host of other locals who have contributed to the Borden Legacy Project were on hand for the soil repatriation ceremony.

"The soil going into the urns was a very poignant moment for me and also the laying of a wreath for my grandfather, Pte. Frank Samuel Sivell," Massie said, adding he also took a moment to reflect on the flying career of his late father, J.C. Massie. "We were up in Scotland and when we flew down to France we went across the English Channel and I thought so much about my dad and his 49 missions over Germany in the Second World War."

The Borden Legacy Project monument to be constructed at the base is for all those who have served in the last 100 years, he added.

The monument will include walls of highly polished black granite, wings of white granite and a First World War bugler. Beyond the bugler will be a contemplation area, nestled among maple trees and four black granite benches.

It will be a place to reflect and honour those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, Massie said.

"Gen. Arthur Currie, a famous Canadian general in the First World War, promised the troops that a grateful nation would always revere their names if they were to die," he said. "That was a promise made 100 years ago and it's important for our generation to pick up that torch and fulfil his promise.

"Hopefully the inscription on the monument will inspire, motivate, and in a small way, thank those soldiers who train at the base and serve our country," Massie said. "The inscription on it reads, 'Through these gates, the sons and daughters of a grateful nation pass ... serving Canada with honour, duty and courage so all may live with freedom, democracy and justice'."

Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman, who also attended the Vimy ceremony on Friday, said there were "a lot of hoops to jump through" to make the soil repatriation and the Borden Legacy Project a reality.

"This happened because there was a donor base in Barrie who contributed to the project — and that was dozens of people — and it being facilitated by the Barrie Community Foundation," he said. "It speaks to the community's commitment to the military tradition in Barrie. They recognize how important it is to our community and how big a part of our history it is."

The soil repatriation and the Legacy Project go beyond Barrie's borders, Massie said.

"What we did at Vimy last week, and what we're going to do when we dedicate the monument, is something that's important for all Canadians, and not just our community," he said.

ian.mcinroy@sunmedia.ca