Visions of Vimy Overview

            The Canadian National Vimy Memorial near Arras, France was the vision of Walter Seymour Allward, a Canadian artist and sculptor. The letters, documents, pictures, blueprints and awards from Walter Seymour Allward’s career show that through the creation of the Memorial both Mr. Allward and the Canadian government had the true spirit and national pride of Canada in mind from start to finish. The Canadian National Vimy Memorial showcased a new vision for Canadian remembrance. For the first time, an emphasis was placed on every soldier as a hero and positioned them as integral to the national community. This new vision was complemented and executed by Walter Seymour Allward’s work ethic and dedication, creating a memorial that reflects the gratitude Canada has for its military, for each individual soldier, and for every hero.  

            The early creation and coordination between Allward and the Canadian government from 1925-1929, emphasized the importance of perfection. It is clear from the correspondence documentation that Allward had a particular idea of how Canadian valour and devotion should be presented and he approached his work on the Memorial with the same qualities. Each step of the Memorial from sketch, to design, to choice of stone used, to scaling, was carefully and precisely chosen to ensure perfect execution. Letters from the early years of design praised Allward for capturing the emotional journey and sacrifice of Canadian soldiers. Allward’s particularity shines through in each letter he wrote, guaranteeing his vision was captured from start to finish. At one point in the process, Walter Seymour Allward became ill, and he had a difficult time realizing he needed to take a break despite being told to by Colonel Osborne, Honorary Secretary to the Canadian Battlefields Memorials Commission. Walter Seymour Allward approached the entirety of the project with unmatched dedication, and this was evident to each person who worked alongside him.

            The documentation from the early creation and coordination period from 1925-1929 also highlighted the new vision of memorial. The Memorial was to pay honour to each, and every soldier who fought at the Battle of Vimy Ridge and in World War I. The correspondence reveals a significant amount of planning and thought that went into defining the symbolism of each section of the Memorial. Additionally, there was a precisely updated list ensuring each missing soldier had his name inscribed on the wall of the Memorial. The relationship between the Canadian government and Walter Seymour Allward pushed for perfection and accepted no less.

            Documents and images from 1930-1936 presented the later stages of the construction of the Memorial to completion, and the unveiling. This period in the collection showed Canadian pride and appreciation. Walter Seymour Allward accomplished something very special, he not only represented the soldiers who fought in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, but he represented the Canadian people. It is clear from the overwhelming praise he received that Allward created something that everyone could look to and see the impenetrable walls, the welcoming gateway, the mourning statues, and the sacrifice of each name inscribed on the Memorial. Allward intended the Memorial to be interacted with, invoking a different response, emotion, and connection from each person who visited, and he succeeded. The Canadian National Vimy Memorial to this day helps Canadians and the world remember how important Canada is to the global community and how important Canada’s soldiers are to the nation.  

            The Canadian National Vimy Memorial created by Walter Seymour Allward shows solidarity between the Canadian nation and its soldiers. Allward’s incredible work and dedication successfully captured a new vision of Canadian remembrance. 100 years after the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Canadians can look to this memorial and realize the selflessness and sacrifice of every Canadian soldier.

Kayla Keenan

Queen’s University – Military C&E Museum Intern

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