They said it was going to be a trip of a lifetime. It defiantly lived up to that and so much more. There was never a moment when you weren’t part of Canada. I traveled with thousands of Canadian youth from all over the country. It was always interesting to hear where groups were from and why they wanted to be part of this experience. Under the direction of my 3 teachers Ms. Caister, Mr. Parr, Mr. Oaks, EF Tour Director Susanne and Bus Driver Richard the trip was extremely organized and smooth as we were able to include extra sight seeing opportunities. My original plan before I left was to post pictures/ videos to social media and write a little blog each night about my trip and what I was up to. Though I feel that I fulfilled the picture and video posting, I totally forgot to blog post on my site like I promised. Maybe I was having too much fun or there was really no time because there wasn’t. I also feel pictures and videos tell the story on another level so I hope you enjoyed that.
April 4th -13th: The Journey
Arriving in London for the first 2 days of our 10-day journey we explored the city, learned about its history and of course shopped. After arriving we started our tour at Trafalgar Square. Just a few blocks from Lester Square and Piccadilly Circus we observed the busyness of London and shopped around. The next day we joined a guide named Keith as we explored the city and tried to learn about some of the 32 boroughs. We took a look at the many significant architectural buildings including Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral and much more. During our time there we also learned about how London’s role played out during the war.
After our experience in London, we traveled by Eurostar and under the English Channel to France. At a speed of 300 kilometers an hour, we didn’t take longer than an hour and a half. We were in 3 countries in less than 6 hours. After arriving in Ypres Belgium we explored the town and took in the culture. Indulging in amazing Belgium Waffles, hitting up the Chocolate Stores where they smiled and said “welcome boys and girls” as they demonstrated what deals were available and we explored the Flanders Field Museum where some of us claimed the tower to see the sights below, including the Menin Gate. After a short dinner at a local soccer stadium, we went back to the Menin Gate for the Last Post Ceremony which happens every single night at 8pm ever since July 2nd 1928.
Menin Gate Ceremony Report
Now back in France, we visited the Beaumont Hamel War Memorial where 814 Newfoundland soldiers are dedicated for their sacrifice during World War 1. One of the two Canadian historical sites in France the Beaumont Hamel Memorial symbolizes the regiment’s first major engagement. During an assault that lasted approximately 30 minutes the regiment was all but wiped out. The monument purchased in 1921 by the people of Newfoundland, the memorial site is the largest battalion memorial on the Western Front, and the largest area of the Somme battlefield that has been preserved. Along with preserved trench lines, there are a number of memorials and cemeteries contained within the site. We then moved toward the historic town of Arras where the EF Vimy Hub was set up. Many interactive activities and artifacts were organized and enjoyed by all. Exploring the city all so much more, I visited Canada House along with the Vimy Foundation tent where I bought merchandise and learned more about the ceremony.
April 9th: The Commemorative Day
It was the day we were all waiting for. April 9th was when Canada became a nation and all 4 divisions came together to fight the Great War. Our group got up around 6 and was on the bus by 7 so we could pick up our lunch packs that had been prepared for us. We arrived at the security hub in good time for us to get a good spot to stand. we got through bag and passport checks pretty easily after the 3 layer and airport security style was warned. Not even close to an airport. Security seemed to be well thought out and in a good amount. My group got there early enough so we could check out the tents, gather free stuff and so that I had time to film my segments. It was 24 degrees with complete sun. Bathrooms were limited, water was available but since so many were using it that also got limited. The ceremony was amazing. Watching it in person was totally different than seeing it on TV. I could see the Royals, Justin Trudeau and the other special dignitaries with my own eyes. The music, skits, soldiers stories, biplane flyover, military presence and everything else in between made proud to be there. After the ceremony was a little different, Veterans Affairs did well with getting 25 thousand into a secure area, getting them out was harder. It took us 2 hours to leave the monument. My group had to even storm the ridge so we could leave as the original exit was too small for everyone to get through. By the time I got to my hotel it was 3 am the next morning. Though waiting around and getting a sunburn was simply unavoidable it’s not easy putting together words to describe the experience. So please enjoy the report from Vimy Ridge on April 9th.
The next day was a bit slower and relaxing. We actually followed Justin Trudeau around as he had a similar itinerary. Our group explored Juno Beach where WWII Canadian soldiers landed during operation Overlord. We enjoyed the Juno Beach Centre as we walked in the footsteps of the soldiers on the beach and in the bunkers. We visited Canada House along the water which is a testament to the fighting on D-Day, this house featured in many film clips and photos taken of the D-Day landings in June of 1944. It stands much as it did on the morning of June 6th, 1944 which marked the middle as a symbol to the Canadians when coming ashore. We explored Gold Beach as well taking in the sights of the nearest village while having lunch and shopping around. We visited the Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery containing predominantly Canadian soldiers killed during the early stages of the Battle of Normandy in the Second World War. We wrapped up our day visiting the Abbaye d’Ardenne which housed the headquarters of the 25th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment of the 12 SS Panzer Division. It was to this place that Canadian prisoners, captured during the German counter-attack of June 7th, were brought and executed.
The last 2 days of our journey included a wonderful tour of Paris. We toured the historic Notre Dame Cathedral, climbed the 108 stories (literally) of the Eiffel Tower which is Gustave Eiffel’s iconic, wrought-iron 1889 tower with observation decks. We explored the Louvre a former historic palace housing huge art collection, from Roman sculptures to da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” We saw the iconic Arc de Triomphe, built to commemorate Napoleon’s victories and many more.
Meeting Helen Vari in Paris
An exclusive part to the CCI Vimy Trip my group had the prestige honour and privilege to meet the Co-chair of the Vimy Foundation Helen Vari at her condo in Paris. After interviewing her a month before I left she was determined and devoted to meeting Cobourg students experiencing Vimy. She invited the total of 22 students and 3 teachers into her prestige condo for a meeting and reception. After meeting every single teacher and student that went through her door, we had a group picture on her terrace overlooking the Eiffel Tower. She then invited us for lunch in her dining room. From sandwiches to desert we were well looked after by her kitchen staff and butler. It was an opportunity that I was proud to be able to set up and each person leaving that place was wowed as much as I was.
Thank You For The Memories
Looking back at the over 5000 pictures and videos I took I can’t get over what I saw and did over those 10 days. CCI was joined with St Thomas Aquinas Catholic High School from Ottawa ON and Eric Hamber Secondary from Vancouver BC. Those students were incredible to travel with and I have made some great friends that will last forever. To everyone who made this trip possible and made it so great, thank you for everything. For more on my trip including pictures and videos visit my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.