SAINT-JULIEN, LANGEMARK, Belgium, Nov. 9, 2017 /CNW/ - Canada's national parks, national historic sites, and marine conservation areas allow Canadians to discover their rich and diverse history in a very special way. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017, the Government of Canada is inviting Canadians to discover nature and learn more about our history.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence, Sherry Romanado, on behalf of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, Catherine McKenna, today highlighted the national historic significance of the Second Battle of Ypres. A ceremony was held at the St. Julien Canadian Memorial, in Belgium, in the presence of the Ambassador of Canada to the Kingdom of Belgium and to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, Olivier Nicoloff, the mayor of Langemark-Poelkapelle, Alain Wyffels, the Secretary of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Joëlle Montminy, and a Canadian delegation made up of veterans, young people, and representatives of Indigenous organizations and regimental associations. A Canadian Armed Forces contingent was also there. The event was held as part of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele and of the Canadians' contributions during the First World War.
The Government of Canada is committed to educating Canadians about nationally significant people, places, and events that have contributed to our country's diverse heritage. Between April 22nd and 25th, 1915, during the first major battle they had to fight in the First World War, the men of the 1st Canadian Division fought with courage and determination to halt a German offensive at the Ypres Salient in Belgium. Their tenacity and intrepid spirit in defending the Allied positions amply proved their courage on the battlefield and won them international recognition. At home, the sense of pride was mixed with mourning for the fallen soldiers.
The Canadians had to face some extremely difficult circumstances, including the first chlorine gas attacks of the war, and their sacrifice was a heavy one: 6,000 losses, or one in three men. Many of the fallen soldiers are buried in nearby cemeteries.
As part of the 100th anniversary of national historic sites, Parks Canada is inviting all Canadians to discover and be inspired by the stories of the people, places, and events that have made Canada what it is today. Learn more about our country's history and discover the truly Canadian places and stories with Parks Canada.
"The Government of Canada is proud to commemorate the national historic significance of the Second Battle of Ypres. From April 22nd to 25th, 1915, the 1st Canadian Division courageously resisted the first major chlorine gas attacks of the First World War, and their sacrifice was a heavy one. The determination of these men and the price that they paid to defend the precious jewel of freedom must never be forgotten. As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, I encourage all Canadians to take this opportunity to learn more about this event and its important role in the history of our country."
Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada
"The men of the 1st Canadian Division fought in the hope that future generations of young people would never have to experience the unspeakable horrors faced during this battle. It is our duty to ensure that their memory lives on by telling the youth of today—the leaders of tomorrow—about what happened at Ypres. The commemorative plaque unveiled today will also keep this memory alive."
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence
- The 1st Canadian Division was made up of 18,000 men, most of them civilians who volunteered to serve after war was declared in the summer of 1914.
- After a few months of training, the 1st Canadian Division joined the Ypres Salient, a section on the front line, in early April. In the wake of the Second Battle of Ypres, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae wrote the poem "In Flanders Fields", which would continue to resonate long after the war.
- The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque commemorating the Second Battle of Ypres will be erected on the site of the St. Julien Canadian Memorial in Belgium.
- The memorial commemorates the 1st Canadian Division's participation in the Second Battle of Ypres.
- Created in 1919, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada advises the Minister of Environment and Climate Change regarding the national historic significance of places, people, and events that have shaped Canada's history.
Backgrounder: Second Battle of Ypres
The Second Battle of Ypres (22 April-25 May 1915)
The Second Battle of Ypres was Canada's first major engagement in the First World War. The battle was fought in Flanders in the Ypres Salient – a section of the front line that surrounded the town of Ypres, Belgium, and divided the Germans from the Allies. In the first four days of battle (22-25 April 1915), the 1st Canadian Division fought with great determination and courage to hold back a German offensive. Their tenacious and bold actions in defence of Allied positions proved their mettle on the battlefield and received international recognition. In battle, the Canadians faced almost overwhelming odds, including the first large-scale chlorine gas attack of the war, and paid a massive cost with approximately 6,000 casualties, many of whom are buried nearby. At home, Canadians took enormous pride in the success of their countrymen on the battlefield, while at the same time, communities from across the country mourned the loss of their fallen sons. In the battle's aftermath, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae wrote, In Flanders Fields, a poem that would continue to resonate long after the war was over.
By 1915, the Western Front had developed into a relatively static front line with entrenched defenders on either side. In search of a method of breaking through the line in the Ypres Salient, the Germans decided to employ poison gas. On April 22, they opened the valves on gas cylinders positioned opposite a section of the front line held by French Territorial and Algerian troops, and over 160 tons of chlorine filled the air.
The 1st Canadian Division, which had only recently arrived in France, held the line immediately to the left of where the gas was released. Over the next 24 hours, the Canadians engaged in fierce, bloody battle as they attempted to close a gaping hole in the line created when French and Algerian troops died or retreated in the face of the asphyxiating gas. In the early morning of April 24, the Germans released a second gas attack, this time directly on part of the line held by Canadian soldiers. Some soldiers were able to continue fighting under duress, while others were overcome by the chemical assault. Finally, on April 25, British reinforcements allowed the 1st Canadian Division to engage in a fighting retreat. Later, the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), who were part of the British 27th Division, fought a bloody battle in defence of Bellewaarde Ridge on May 8 (known as the Battle of Frezenberg). The PPCLI successfully held back the German advance, at great cost with hundreds of casualties. The Second Battle of Ypres ended on May 25.
Following the battle, the Canadians received international praise and earned a name for themselves as tough, unyielding soldiers. Four Canadians won the Victoria Cross, while countless other acts of bravery occurred through the division. Fighting with great resilience against incredible odds, the Canadians suffered great losses, and the horrific events at the Second Battle of Ypres inspired what became Canada's best known war poem.
SOURCE Parks Canada
For further information: Marie-Pascale Des Rosiers, Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, 613-462-5473, [email protected]; Media Relations, Parks Canada Agency, 855-862-1812, [email protected]