Military trenches made from concrete at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France.

©Eric Valenne geostory/Shutterstock

Vimy Ridge Canadian National Historic Site

Lille, Flanders & the Somme

After the war, the French attempted to erase signs of battle and return northern France to agriculture and normalcy. Conversely, the Canadians remembered their fallen by preserving part of the crater-pocked battlefield as it was when the guns fell silent. The resulting chilling, eerie moonscape of Vimy, 11km north of Arras, is a poignant place to comprehend the hell of the Western Front. During visitor centre opening hours, bilingual Canadian students lead free guided tours of reconstructed tunnels and trenches.

Of the more than 66,000 Canadians who died in WWI, 3598 lost their lives in April 1917 taking Vimy Ridge. Its highest point – site of a heavily fortified German position – was later chosen as the site of Canada's national WWI memorial, built from 1925 to 1936. It features 20 allegorical figures, carved from huge blocks of white Croatian limestone, that include a cloaked, downcast female figure representing a young Canada grieving for her dead. The names of 11,285 Canadians who 'died in France but have no known graves', listed alphabetically and within each letter by rank, are inscribed around the base.

In the surrounding forest, the zigzag trench system is clearly visible, as are countless shell craters. Because human remains still lie buried among the trees, the entire site has been declared a graveyard.

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