June 23rd, 2018

Vimy: Beauty, resilience in a place that saw many horrors

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on April 12, 2017.

While the Canadian National Vimy Memorial remains a place to mark the death of more than 11,000 Canadian soldiers from the First World War who have no known grave, it is also fast becoming a place of new life.

Nature has reclaimed much of the old battlefield, and the thousands who visit the site annually bring their own heartfelt emotions for the fallen soldiers. Locals more often use the monument as a recreation biking/ walking park, and have picnics in its lea. And now, thanks to a Canadian soldier named Leslie Miller, who served at Vimy and sent home some of the acorns from the oak trees which were destroyed in the battle to grow on his family fruit farm, by 2018 there will be a new memorial Vimy oak park growing at the base of the hill where the monument stands.

This return of life to a place of death speaks to the resiliency of nature, first of all. However, it also shows how even the greatest of sorrows can be transmuted over time into something beautiful, worthwhile and radiant.

Walter Allward, the designer of the Vimy monument, spoke to this very notion when he was once asked about his philosophy of art.

“Every true disciple of art weaves out of the dream which his own heart knows,” he said. “There can be nothing tangible about art.”

Allward made his grand monument a mirror to the viewer’s own emotions, not to his vanity. That is why it remains such a potent place for any who go there to tread its grounds, and reflect upon its meaning. The monument is meant to communicate beyond words to that place inside each of us which understands what sacrifice and valour is. In this way, we may find in its soaring towers, abstract sculptures, and snow-white, pristine marble veneer a sense of grace.

Without question, we could all use a little more grace in our lives. We can find it at places like Vimy Ridge, but we can also find it by simply going outside, shutting down our mind and listening to the natural pulse of life all around us. It is in the hills, the trees, or in the sound of the gurgling river slipping by. It is in garden and in grassland. It is in the flowers of the field, and in the birds of the air.

The soldiers whose names are engraved on the Vimy monument died in horrible ways, and were never able to have a decent burial. Most would have probably preferred not to die, and to have returned home to their native soil and the families which awaited them. But, having no say over their fate, what we today can, and should, ask is this: Is the Vimy monument a dream their heart would know? We their inheritors hope the answer would be yes.

(Tim Kalinowski is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to https://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)

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