‘Ottawa’ Governor General, French Ambassador Unveil Vimy Centenary Memorial Stamps
Two seemingly unrelated events, occurring a century apart, briefly overlapped on Wednesday night to serve as a sombre reminder of the importance of remembrance.
The occasion was the official unveiling of a pair of postage stamps commemorating the centennial of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. A joint project by the post offices of both Canada and France, it was held in the grand salon of the Embassy of France on Sussex Drive, not insignificantly the next-door neighbour of the prime minister.
The battle itself, from April 9-12, 1917, is generally regarded as the defining moment in Canada’s emergence as a nation. For France, it proved to be, as French ambassador to Canada Nicolas Chapuis put it, “the turning point in an uncertain war” and “part of the bedrock of the friendship between France and Canada.”
Wednesday’s ceremony, though, was prefaced by a long moment of silence, not for the fallen soldiers of that First World War battle, but for the victims of Wednesday’s attack on the British Parliament in London. The parallels of remembrance and sacrifice did not go unnoticed by many present, including Gov. Gen. David Johnston.
“One hundred years ago,” he said, “Britain, France and Canada stood together in trying times. Our democracies were tested at Vimy and throughout the First World War, and today’s attack in London — as with other attacks that have occurred in our countries and elsewhere around the world — similarly tests the depth of our commitment to our values.”
Chapuis spoke of the bond forged between Canada and France at Vimy: “The memory of this war, The Great War, and this battle, is ingrained in all of us. Its memory has become an intimate part of our individual and national identities.
“Vimy,” he added, “is more than a memory. It is a symbol. It is a lesson. Vimy is a symbol of hope and life.
“We cannot imagine today, 100 years later, just how much each soldier, whether Canadian, French, British, German, Austro-Hungarian, American, Russian, or one of many others, cherished, in battle, the secret hope of finally being able to live together in peace. Today, we are giving history, for which they paid so dearly. It is our duty to preserve it, our responsibility.”
The Vimy stamps will be released on April 8.
The Canadian one, designed by Montreal artist Susan Scott, combines the Canadian National Vimy Memorial monument’s twin pillars with the engraved names of the thousands of Canadian soldiers who died in France during the First World War.
The French stamp, by Sarah Bougault, shows the flags of the two nations alongside Canada Bereft, a statue at Vimy depicting a forlorn, cloaked woman.
According to Jim Phillips, Canada Post’s director of stamp services, this marked the 20th occasion on which Canada has jointly issued stamps with another country, dating back to 1959, when Canada and the U.S. issued largely identical stamps commemoration the St. Lawrence Seaway.
“Part of our mandate is to commemorate our heroes, culture, heritage and people, and what better than the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge? It’s important for the coming-of-age of our country and the sacrifice our soldiers made.”
Speakers at Wednesday’s unveiling included Chapuis, Johnston, Sen. Serge Joyal, historian and author Serge Bernier, Canada Post president Deepak Chopra, La Poste’s Benoît Georges, 2017 Vimy Reception Committee chair Bruce Burrows, and 2013 Vimy Pilgrimage Award recipient Jocelyn Leblanc.