Edmontonians commemorate 100th anniversary of Battle of Vimy Ridge in Churchill Square

WATCH ABOVE: Hundreds of Edmontonians gathered in Churchill Square Sunday to remember the sacrifices made at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Sarah Kraus reports.

In Alberta’s capital city, hundreds gathered downtown to remember the sacrifices made 100 years ago at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in World War I.

For the first time, everyday Edmontonians made history by standing guard at the cenotaph in front of City Hall.

Kaleb Dubhan, 7, stood vigil with his father, holding a picture of his great-grandfather who was one of 14,000 Edmonton residents that fought in the first World War.

“We wanted to honour our Grandfather and all the soldiers that live in our family,” he said, moments after finishing his 15-minute shift.

“You should honour them because they gave you your freedom in Canada and let you live.”

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His father, Kodiak Dubhan, brought his son with him to give him a first-hand history lesson.

“We’re 100 years removed from it now. My generation and any generation younger than myself? We don’t remember war,” he said.

READ MORE: Long-lost diary of Edmonton soldier sheds light on Battle of Vimy Ridge

He thinks too few Canadians know what happened at Vimy Ridge and said attending ceremonies is a good way to learn about the past.

For Graham Isbister, standing guard was a moving experience.

“I feel Canadians are a very humble people and it felt overwhelmingly patriotic just to stand there,” he explained.

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Across the street, others wrote notes to soldiers and fellow Canadians on cutouts of maple leaves to hang on a metal tree sculpture.

READ MORE: Justin Trudeau, British royals pay homage to fallen Canadian soldiers at Vimy Ridge

Sunday night, city volunteers will collect the wishes and place them in a time capsule to be opened 100 years from now, at the 200th anniversary of Vimy Ridge.

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Churchill Square was packed with people, young and old, captivated by actors portraying real Edmonton soldiers.

“It helps take history out of the books and put it onto the streets,” said Carolyn Patton, the chair for Edmonton’s Vimy 100 activities.

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In the early hours of April 9, 1917, the bloody assault on German-occupied Vimy Ridge in northern France began and the ensuing four-day fight cost 3,598 Canadian lives and left 7,000 more wounded.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge has become one of Canada’s most celebrated skirmishes of the First World War and a supposed “turning point for the Allies” that has been lauded as a nation-building moment for the country.

READ MORE: Vimy Ridge: WWI turning point and ‘nation-building’ moment for Canada? A myth, historians say

A large map was installed across the square showing key locations in the area around Vimy Ridge where Canadian soldiers held their ground.

“It shows us who supported us and who helped make Canada the way it is today,” said Rachel Seguin, who came with her grandparents and her brother.

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“I learned that it was a terrible war and it was long-lasting and many people died,” Michael Sequin explained.

Their grandfather had a personal connection to Vimy Ridge, through his great-uncle Nathan Mansfield Nicholas.

“It took a long time before peace was achieved and during that time, unfortunately he was killed by artillery fire,” Gord Platt explained.

READ MORE: School play connects Alberta teen to Vimy Ridge veteran great-grandfather

His wife, Clair Platt, said she feels it’s important for generations further removed from the World Wars to learn about how much was lost.

“It’s important that they understand how Canada has become free and we enjoy that every day thanks to the huge sacrifices that have been made for us.”

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In total, 14,000 Edmontonian soldiers fought in World War I. Many did not make it home.

Interactive maps: Canada’s Vimy Ridge dead, house by house

“It was really a defining moment for us because that was the first time that all four divisions fought together at the same time,” said Lt. Col. Mark Beare, the Chief of Staff for the 3rd Canadian Division Support Group.

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“The success they achieved at Vimy Ridge is something that’s really celebrated and also commemorated because it came at tremendous sacrifice.”

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With files from Andrew Russell, Global News

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