INNISFAIL – Veterans, legion members and other citizens gathered at the Innisfail Royal Canadian Legion to remember the battle, the bravery and the ultimate sacrifice of 3,598 Canadian soldiers at Vimy Ridge a century ago.
The commemorative ceremony on April 9 marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, one of the most significant and successful battles in Canadian history, a battle for Canada that is considered the “birth of the nation.”
A short service was held at the Innisfail cenotaph where a wreath was laid on behalf of all veterans. Guests also heard from speakers Chris Strong, president of the Alberta-NWT Command and Red Deer historian and author Michael Dawe.
“We’re marking a victory that’s a pride of Canada but I hope we don’t also forget that 3,600 men died,” said Dawe.
“They weren’t expecting to capture the ridge on the first day (April 9, 1917),” said Dawe. “The Canadian victory was so overwhelming that once they captured Vimy, it was the Canadians for the rest of the war.”
During his speech, Dawe shared some history about Innisfail and area families that were involved in the battle.
Craig MacKenzie, born and raised in Innisfail, is the last surviving son of a Vimy veteran in Central Alberta. Today he lives in Red Deer and he attended the commemorative service in Innisfail on Sunday.
His father, Sgt. Walter MacKenzie, was in the first contingent of the 35th Central Alberta Horse, the first unit from Red Deer to enlist to go overseas.
He fought at Vimy Ridge the morning of April 9, 1917.
“Dad took part in all the major battles,” said MacKenzie. “He was there (on April 9,1917) leading his contingent up Vimy Ridge, and on Hill 70 and (later) at Passchendaele.
MacKenzie recalled a couple of close calls for his father, including an instance when he and a friend went to fetch some water and narrowly missed being shot by a sniper.
“They were getting the water and all of a sudden a bullet went whizzing right between the two of them,” said Mackenzie, noting that like many veterans, his father did not like to talk about the war but did share one miraculous situation with him.
“He looked down the ravine and he could see three German soldiers down there. I asked him what happened,” said MacKenzie, adding that as his father walked away he snapped a tree branch.
“They turned around and came charging up the hill after my dad,” said Mackenzie. “ëI came back and they didn’t.’ That’s all he would tell me.”
Commemorative services were held at legions across Canada and overseas in France on April 9.
Michael Dawe, historian and author.
“We’re marking a victory that’s a pride of Canada but I hope we don’t also forget that 3,600 men died.”