Toronto commemorates 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge

The leaders of Canada and France are paying quiet homage to the thousands of soldiers who fought and died during the First World War. Commemoration ceremonies will take place on Sunday at the memorial to honor Canadian soldiers who were killed or wounded during the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917.

"2017 is a special year of commemoration for Canada as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation and we remember the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid and the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele".

"They tell us what free peoples are capable of when the essential is at stake", he said in French.

"Because this, too, is why we're here".

In 1936, as Canadians and many others around the world watched the Vimy monument's unveiling, retired brigadier-general Alexander Ross famously intoned that the battle had marked "the birth of a nation".

Though it was led by British troops, it was mostly fought by Canadian forces.

"They were, most of them, young men in their late teens, in their early 20s", Trudeau said at the ceremony.

"Their loss inspires us to do all in our power to prevent such senseless loss from ever happening again".

"A healthy respect for people that have volunteered their services, their time, their lives for this country" said Dennette Harrison, one of the few hundred people who gathered to watch the ceremony at the Calgary Soldier's Memorial.

Those who herald the importance of Vimy acknowledge all this, but say it is what Vimy has come to represent over the years and decades that matters. I can say without hesitation that Manitobans have never forgotten, and we will never forget, the sacrifice made by our fearless men and women in uniform.

In his speech, French President Francois Hollande made a veiled criticism of far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen who has been promoting an anti-immigrant, nationalist agenda.

Hollande said the links built between France and Canada were evident today "when we condemn chemical massacres committed by a criminal regime" - a clear reference to the suspected chemical attack in rebel-held Syria this week.

Angry opposition in the province of Quebec to the First World War and the military conscription that eventually came with it have receded into memory, just as Vimy Ridge has emerged as what most historians consider the seminal event of Canadian nationhood.

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