Late at night on April 3rd, twenty students and two teachers from Red Lake District High School left the familiar landscape of the Red Lake area to fly overseas to Europe as part of the Explorica “Return to Vimy 2012” tour. Though the bumpy bus ride, long plane rides, rushed schedule, and 7-hour time change took a toll on the students and teachers, everyone was in high spirits when they arrived in Münich, Germany, the morning of Thursday, April 5th.
Within a week, the RLDHS travel club travelled by bus, boat, plane, and train, spent time in three different countries, saw the Eiffel tower, took pictures of Notre Dame, went to the BMW show room in Berlin, saw the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, explored the Arras Wellington quarries, visited Canadian War Memorials, and so much more. The overwhelming amount of things to see and do on their trip, and how each of those things impacted each person, can barely be summed up in words.
One of the most significant events of the entire trip was the visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp. Though the visit was a somber one, it was also very eye-opening and, in some cases, emotional for those exploring the grounds. Upon arrival, the students and teachers sat down to watch a video displaying images and pieces of film documented over the years the camp was running. After the video, the students were free to wander the different sites in the camp, such as the barracks, the crematoria, and the memorials.
The main event, however, was the celebration of the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The groups were first taken to Arras, where they explored the Arras-Wellington quarries. Before the groups left Canada, each student was assigned a soldier who was buried at Vimy. At the quarries the students created personalized wooden crosses for their assigned soldier. Later that morning they attended a ceremony with the Canadian Ambassador to France, Marc Lortie; the mayor of Arras, Frédéric Leturque; the CEO of Explorica, Evan Wood; Steven Blaney from Veterans Affairs Canada; and the Governor General of Canada, the Right Honourable David Johnston.
From the quarries, the students were escorted in their buses to Vimy Ridge, where they could place their crosses at the graves of their soldiers. Despite the relentless rain and wind, the students endured the weather for six hours as they waited, marched in processional, and listened at the anniversary celebration to commemorate those soldiers who fought for the Ridge for Canada in 1917; the first time all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force fought together. Many of the RLDHS students, soaked and cold but excited about the significance of the event, complimented the song “Vimy Ridge” by Lizzy Hoyt, a song that the young woman wrote in tribute of the soldiers who died in the battle 95 years ago.
Though the trip was long, busy, and at times overwhelming, every member of the RLDHS travel club agreed that it was worth the months of fundraising, preparing, planning, and organizing to see things that many other people will never get to see. The students would like to extend a most sincere thank-you to all of the members of the Red Lake communities for supporting and sponsoring them along the way.