While touring battlefields and memorials across Europe, recipients of The Vimy Foundation’s prestigious summer scholarships are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the history of the 20th century while making lasting memories.
The Vimy Foundation offers two scholarships to high school-aged Canadian youth: the Vimy Pilgrimage Award and the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize. Both awards encourage youth engagement with the First and Second World Wars.
“It really brings a lot of aspects of history to life. Things we’re learning at the time in class and textbooks, we were able to see for ourselves. It brings a whole magnitude to learning history. It’s easy to read numbers in a text book but totally miss the vastness and the scale of what happened all those years ago,” said Alyssa Walsh, a 2014 recipient of the Vimy Pilgrimage Award.
Walsh was a recipient of the Vimy Pilgrimage Award, which recognizes outstanding community service, based on our her volunteer work with the Camp Hill Veterans’ Memorial Building in Halifax, NS, where she’s been volunteering for the last five years.
“It definitely had a big impact on why I applied for the award because I had met so many people who had lived these experiences and it really peaked my interest to learn more,” recalled Walsh.
The ten-day trip took Walsh and her fellow recipients to England, Belgium, and France where the group visited memorials, museums, national cemeteries and historic sites.
Out of all the memorable experiences, the visit to the Vimy Ridge Memorial on a gloomy and rainy day.
“I can speak for myself, and a lot of the other group members, that it was a very humbling experience because Vimy Ridge is one of those stories as Canadians we learn about in school, but standing there brought a whole new context to what I had previously learned,” said Walsh.
She was also greatly impacted by her visit to Juno Beach. Walsh recalls seeing people lightheartedly enjoy the beach, flying kites, riding horses and playing in the sand.
“For me, that is what I think people were fighting for. A day of peace where people could be free and enjoy their lives and not worry about war and conflict,” commented Walsh.
The trip made such an impact on Walsh that today she is working towards a degree in international relations and conflict history. She recommends high school students to take advantage of the opportunity.
“Definitely take the risk. I know that when I applied, I was thinking to myself this trip is too amazing there’s no way I can get it in. But I did, and it really changed my life in a lot of ways. I really do believe that that program has led to a lot of decisions I’ve made from what I study today to the volunteer work I do, from so many perspectives. So, I would encourage anyone to take that leap even if they’re not interested in history, per say,” said Walsh.
Taking the leap and applying for The Vimy Foundation’s awards is something that 2017 recipient of the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize, Claire Belliveau, also strongly recommends.
“The Vimy Foundation provides an amazing experience, and honestly I never would have thought about how much this experience would change my life. Definitely, apply for this. It definitely changes what you think about remembrance in general. It makes you want to remember not just for you, but for your community and engage others, and you feel so passionate about that. It resonates with you,” said Belliveau.
Belliveau had the opportunity to visit England, Belgium, and France, visiting memorials, cemeteries and attending lectures, from Aug. 7-12 this year.
She was inspired to apply for the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize because of her love of history and encouragement from her teacher. Belliveau recalls she was excited and in a state of disbelief when she found out.
“I was just shopping in a drug store when I got the call, and I had tears in my eyes and started to full on cry, actually, shaking a little bit, just so excited,” recalled Belliveau.
Because of her experiences with this summer scholarship, Belliveau has gained a new family: her fellow recipients.
“We became a support group to each other because this program was very emotionally demanding. We went through two to three cemeteries roughly per day and towards the end of the days that would get very tolling. We all had a moment where we broke down and cried, and everybody was there for one another,” said Belliveau.
As part of the experience, Belliveau and her fellow recipients were asked to complete a “Bringing the Boys Home” project where they had to write biographies and a short tribute to a soldier from the First World War. Some chose the soldiers listed on the Vimy Ridge Memorial.
“If there’s a name on the Vimy Memorial that means their body was never found. So we have this whole concept that they are the lost soldiers, the names on the memorials are lost, soldiers. But then by doing these types of presentations they’re not lost anymore as we’ve found them and we’re bringing them home, and we remember them still,” commented Belliveau.
Because of The Vimy Foundation, Belliveau, Walsh and the dozens of other recipients of the Foundation’s awards are now able to carry forward the torch of remembrance for years to come.
Applications are now being accepted for the Vimy Pilgrimage Award for the 2018 year. The 2018 Vimy Pilgrimage Award trip is scheduled for April 2-10. Twenty youth ages 14-17 will be chosen for this award. Deadline to apply is Nov. 12.
Applications for the 2018 Beaverbrook Vimy Prize will be open starting Nov. 11. This prize is open to Canadian youth ages 15-17.
To learn more or to apply visit the Vimy Foundation Website