Barrie residents, dignitaries, veterans celebrate grand opening of Memorial Square

The sacred soil, removed from the battlefield at Vimy Ridge is now encased in the monument at Memorial Square in Barrie. Hannah Jackson / Global News

Residents, dignitaries, veterans and active service members gathered in downtown Barrie on Friday for the grand opening of Memorial Square.

On Friday morning, a parade carried sacred soil which was collected at Vimy Ridge in France down Dunlop Street in Barrie to a newly erected monument in Memorial Square. The soil symbolically holds the DNA of soldiers wounded and killed in the 1917 battle of Vimy Ridge.

The monument, which sits prominently in Memorial Square next to the Cenotaph, honours the memory of soldiers from all over Canada who trained at Base Borden — just outside of Barrie — who ultimately lost their lives at Vimy Ridge.

The monument at Memorial Square honours the memory of soldiers who lost their lives at Vimy Ridge. Hannah Jackson / Global News

READ MORE: After a year of construction, Memorial Square and Meridian Place to open June 29

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“Two journeys are coming to an end today,” said Barrie’s Mayor Jeff Lehman. “The journey of creating this new place of remembrance, a project in the very heart of our city, which is now a site or remembrance for our community, beside it a brand new facility which will be the centerpiece of events from here forward, and the second journey of course is the journey of the sacred soil which began several years ago in France.”

Barrie’s Mayor Jeff Lehman addresses a crowd of dignitaries, veterans and active service members at the grand opening of Memorial Square. Hannah Jackson / Global News

Lehman says through a strong relationship built over time with the Arras city in the Pas-de-Calais region of France, Barrie has been able to create a special monument in the downtown core in remembrance of those who fought for Canada. The first of its kind in the country.

“Today with the installation of the sacred soil, the dedication of the Cenotaph and this beautiful expanded place of remembrance at Memorial Square, we enshrine that relationship with memories of those who gave their lives. We will remember them,” he said.

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Lehman says the square is about honouring those who have fallen, and keeping their legacy alive.

“We have the freedom to enjoy the unparalleled quality of life that we have here in Barrie and Ontario and Canada is due to the sacrifice of those who came before, and today we can honour the sacrifice and service by supporting the men and women of the Canadian Forces,” he said. “Most of all, we can teach our kids about the legacy of the past and what it means to the future of our country. That is what this space is all about.”

The newly-renovated outdoor space was a joint effort between the City of Barrie, the Downtown Barrie Business Association (BIA) and Meridian. After a year of construction, Memorial Square is now open to the public, and what was once an unused space, is now the centre of history and remembrance in the city.

READ MORE: Canada Day 2018: Where to watch the fireworks in Barrie

The ceremony on Friday morning officially marked the beginning of the Canada Day long-weekend festivities in Barrie. On Friday evening at 5p.m., beside the new monument, residents and dignitaries will celebrate the grand opening of the new Meridian Place event space.

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