Vimy Ridge Day

Honourable senators, as His Honour mentioned, we have special guests here today. They are guests of mine and guests of yours, and they are great Canadians. They are accompanied by my old friend Don McCumber, who is President of the Ontario branch of the Army Cadet League of this country.

I am so pleased, Senator Marshall, that your side and our side have agreed to put these pins on. It is very important. Their presence here today is part of a lead-up to Vimy Ridge Day on April 9. The Army Cadet League is a national program that offers 12- to 18-year-olds opportunities to take part in challenging outdoor activities to help them become responsible, healthy members of their communities.

The cadets also participate in a special educational program, introduced just last year, focusing on the Battle of Vimy Ridge. This historic battle took place in 1917, almost 100 years ago, but its significance and the courage of those Canadian soldiers who were there is as relevant today as ever.

With knowledge about the contributions that our soldiers have made to ensure our freedom, today’s young generation will be ready to pass the torch of remembrance to future generations. The cadets who complete this program receive the Vimy Pin, which is produced by the Vimy Foundation to commemorate and build awareness of this important military event. The Vimy Foundation has generously offered to provide these pins to all of us. If you have not received a pin, we have a few more. Please let us know, and I will see that you get one. If you would like to know more about the design of the pin, you will find lots of interesting information on the Vimy Foundation’s website.

I want to thank the foundation and the members of the Ontario Army Cadet League for their being with us today and for their efforts to ensure that we remain mindful of the acts of courage that have helped to shape this country.

Cadets, I have a few personal memories. I will keep them brief. When I was a national reporter, I covered a major anniversary of Vimy Ridge. It was 1987. Many veterans were at the ceremony. As a foreign correspondent, I have never been more moved than by listening to their stories — the living stories at that time — at the site which defined Canada as a nation.

Right here in the Senate, we had a senator whose father fought at Vimy. The late Senator Atkins’ dad had a diary of that day in which he described his experiences in typical soldier fashion. The entry from Sergeant George Atkins simply reads:

Put over a barrage this morning 5 a.m. The Canadians took Vimy Ridge aflying, took a lot of prisoners.

Simple as that.

Only a couple of years ago, Senator Atkins said this about his dad:

My father taught me a great deal about values, ethics, loyalty to a cause, and loyalty to one’s beliefs. He was so proud of his country and its people.

Cadets, I believe these are the words that should guide you. We shall never forget Vimy.