Victorious Canadian troops following the Battle of Vimy Ridge, April 1917 courtesy of Library and Archives Canada / PA-001332

Vimy Ridge: "The birth of a nation" - but how much do Canadians know about the battle?

Posted on centenarynews.com on 08 April 2014
Share |

The Vimy Foundation has commissioned a poll, carried out by Ipsos Reid, to find out what Canadians know about the Battle of Vimy Ridge on its 97th anniversary.

Just under half of Canadians can correctly identify that the Battle of Vimy Ridge took place during the First World War.

On April the 9th 1917, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps - some 20,000 men - attacked the heavily entrenched Vimy Ridge and wrested it from German control.

It was the first time in three years that Allied troops had controlled the area, and it was thanks to Canadian forces.

The battle is considered as having played a crucial part in the formation of Canadian identity, with Brigadier-General A.E. Ross commenting after the war that at Vimy Ridge, "in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation".

The results of the Vimy Foundation's poll, however, indicate that there is limited knowledge amongst some Canadians about the significance of Vimy Ridge, or even what it is.

What is Vimy Ridge?

The survey took into account a range of demographics, including age, gender and the provincial makeup of Canada.

Overall, 82% of the 1,105 Canadians surveyed knew that Vimy Ridge is a famous battle which Canadian troops fought in, leaving almost one in every five surveyed unaware of this.

Almost a fifth of people believed that Vimy Ridge was either a mountain range in Canada (9%) or a ski slope used in the run up to Sochi Olympic Winter Games 2014 for training (a further 9%).

                                   The Canadian National Vimy Ridge Memorial in France

The answers also highlighted interesting differences between English and French-speaking Canadians, with 93% of Ontarians being able to explain what Vimy Ridge is.

Quebecers, on the other hand, polled consistently low on a range of questions about Vimy Ridge. Of the Quebecers surveyed, 55% did not know what Vimy Ridge is, with almost a quarter (24%) believing it was a ski slope used in training for the Sochi Games. Significantly higher than the 9% average who thought this across the sample.

Age also played a role when it came to knowledge of the battle: 92% of 55+ year olds correctly identified what Vimy Ridge is, compared with 81% of 35-54 year olds, and 69% of 18-34 year olds.

Which war?

There was significant confusion about when the Battle of Vimy Ridge was fought; with less than half of Canadians (47%) being able to identify that it was fought during the First World War.

Almost two out of every five surveyed (37%) believed that it took place during the Second World War, with three in ten (30%) associating Vimy Ridge with Canadian losses on the beaches of Normandy during the D-Day landings in 1944.

Second World War British Field Marshal Montgomery reads the inscription on a grave at the Vimy Ridge Memorial in 1944, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, © IWM, BU 763

Which war the battle of Vimy Ridge took place in drew various answers, with some believing it was during the Northwestern Rebellion (8%), the Korean War (4%), the Boer War (2%), or the Afghanistan War (2%).

Of those surveyed, 8% believed that Vimy Ridge was a turning point for UN Forces in the Korean War.

Men were more likely to identify that this was a First World War battle (52%), compared to women (43%).

Interestingly, the 55+ age group were most likely to correctly identify this as well (52%), but 42% were just as likely to think it was a Second World War battle.

In a developing pattern, Quebecers polled lowest at 37% in response to this question.

Accomplishments and Impact

Whilst the majority of Canadians could identify that action at Vimy Ridge contributed to a significant Allied victory in the First World War (60%), confusion with the Second World War remained.

As many as one in five (18%) were under the impression that Canada's actions at Vimy Ridge helped ensure the liberation of the Nazi death camps.

Men once again outpolled women when it came to understanding the accomplishments at Vimy Ridge at 66% to 55%. Older people continued to out-poll younger people surveyed with this question.

Those from Alberta knew the most about the accomplishments of the battle (69%), while Quebecers knew the least (49%).

However, a majority of Canadians (66%) were able to identify that Vimy Ridge gave rise to a new confidence in Canada as a fighting force and as a nation.

There did remain confusion about the impact of the battle amongst some Canadians, as 18% believed it led to Canada joining the United Nations, which was established more than 25 years after the battle.

A further 13% believed it led to the liberation of Paris from Nazi Germany.

Centennial

Only 3% of the sample surveyed said that a family member was planning to travel to France in 2017 to commemorate the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

More men (4%), than women (1%), said they thought that a relative would travel to Vimy Ridge to mark the 100th anniversary of the battle.

To read the poll in its entirety, visit the Ipsos Reid website here.

Posted by: Daniel Barry, Centenary News

© Centenary Digital Ltd & Author