Legion one step closer to “Vimy Memorial Bridge” commemoration

Royal Canadian Legion Members at City Hall on Wed. Oct. 1, 2014.
Royal Canadian Legion Members at City Hall on Wed. Oct. 1, 2014.

Decorated veterans gave a loud standing ovation after the city’s transportation committee meeting voted to name a recently-completed bridge the “Vimy Memorial Bridge” at their meeting on Wednesday. The Manotick and Barrhaven branches of the Royal Canadian Legion are now one step closer in their goal to name the bridge in honour of the famous battle Canadians fought during the First World War. The proposal will be brought before city council for final approval.

The bridge connects Strandherd Drive and Earl Armstrong Road in the south end of the city and is currently unnamed. With soaring white arches, a weight of 6600 tonnes, and a span of 125 metres, the bridge is an impressive sight in the neighbourhood.

At the meeting at City Hall on Wednesday, legionnaires showed up in full regalia, smiling and joking with their fellow members. Clad in navy blue and adorned with colourful medals, the men and women present had a wealth of memories and experiences. While some served in the Second World War, others have been members of the Canadian Reserve Force or have a long military history in the family. “It’s surprising, the stories we come up with,” said Joyce LeBeau, who served as an air-traffic controller.

Ernie Hughes, president of the Barrhaven Royal Canadian Legion, was the first to speak to the committee with a speech illustrating the stark opposition faced by Canadian soldiers during the battle of Vimy Ridge. His voice clear in the silent room, he said, “The Canadian corps attacked the ridge at 5:35 a.m. on Apr. 9, 1917 – Easter Monday, or Bloody Easter…In the wind, sleet and snow, an initial wave of more than 15,000 Canadians stormed the ridge.” Canadian soldiers rushed up the hill with only their service rifles and bayonets, against barrages of German automatic machine gun fire, Hughes said. While 3,598 Canadians died and another 7,000 were wounded, there was double the amount of casualties on the German side. They captured the ridge in just three days.

Allan Haan, a member of the Manotick Legion, spoke briefly after Hughes. He said that this is the battle where “Canada earned its spurs…It raised Canada’s international stature.”

Coun. Steve Desroches, who brought forth the motion originally, thanked the Legion members for their efforts “to celebrate…our nation’s history and to help commemorate the anniversary of the First World War.” Councillors Clark, Parker, and Harder were also strong backers of the motion.

While the committee appeared supportive of the motion in general, Coun. Diane Deans questioned if the bridge was worthy enough to hold the name of the hard-fought battle that saw Canada step forward as an independent nation.

Hughes stated that it was a significant structure in many ways. For one, the bridge connects a new part of the city with the Veterans Memorial Highway, also called Hwy. 416. The bridge cost $48 million and Hughes didn’t think “this city is going to build another monument…that costs that much money to honour veterans from Vimy Ridge”. It’s appropriate to have such a monument in the nation’s capital to commemorate brave soldiers across Canada, he added.

The new Vimy Memorial Bridge will “honour Canadian veterans past, present and future”, Hughes said.

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