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Trip brings war history to life for Notre-Dame students

By: Heidi Ulrichsen - Sudbury Northern Life

 | Mar 18, 2014 - 5:41 PM |
Collège Notre-Dame students visit the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherlands. Supplied photo.

Collège Notre-Dame students visit the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherlands. Supplied photo.

Group visits sites pivotal in First and Second World Wars

Canada's war history came to life for a group of local high school students as they toured Europe during the March break.

Many of the places they visited — including the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany, Anne Frank's house in Holland, Ypres in Belgium and Juno Beach and Vimy Ridge in France — were connected with the First and Second World Wars.

Learning about what Canadian troops did during these wars “has made me a lot more proud to be Canadian,” said Tristan Wallis, one of 64 Collège Notre-Dame students who went on the trip.

“It's great to hear what they did in the classroom and see movies, but once you're there and see what they had to do, and the conditions they were in, it's so much more real,” said Wallis, a Grade 12 student at the school.

Veronique Venne, also a Grade 12 Notre-Dame student, said she was really hit by just how young the soldiers were.

“You saw it on the tombstones,” she said. “Some of them were 19. I'm going to be 19 in a year and a half. These kids were our age. It hits hard. They were young and they had a life. It just wasn't fair.”

Both students said the highlight of the trip was their visit to the Canadian National Vimy Ridge memorial in France, dedicated to the memory of Canadian Expeditionary Force members killed during the First World War.

They said they were amazed by the large monument on the site, as well as the fact the land the structure sits on is technically Canadian soil, as France donated the area to Canada.

“They have a line of granite in the pavement, and past that line, you're officially in Canada,” Wallis said.

Venne said she was also struck by the wartime tunnels, trenches and craters preserved on the site.

Given the school group also visited the great cities of Berlin and Paris, the teacher who organized the trip said he's amazed Wallis and Venne would say Vimy was their favourite part of the excursion.

But Denis Bidal said he also led a group of students on a similar tour six years ago, and they had the same response. It just shows how the trip has made history relevant to the students, he said.

“If it's not just dates and copied notes, then it becomes interesting,” said Bidal, who teaches history, geography and law at Notre-Dame.

For him, the highlight of the trip was being approached by a Dutch man during a visit to an Amsterdam war cemetery. The man asked him if they were Canadian, and when he said yes, he said Canadians had done a good job.

“It's in textbooks that the Dutch are extremely grateful to Canadians,” for liberating their country, and 80 years later, it seems they're still grateful, Bidal said. “It's something I'm never going to forget.”
Heidi Ulrichsen

Heidi Ulrichsen

Staff Writer


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