A cenotaph project recently completed in North Queens all began with a trip to Vimy Ridge last April to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War battle.
“As part of that, we had funding that was given to us from the local Masonic Lodge,” said Julie Ramey, a teacher at North Queens School in Caledonia. “They actually applied for special projects funding and they gave us a grant of $17,000.”
Some of the money was put aside for students to do a commemorative project at the local cenotaph upon their return.
“Since then, we now have a new program at school called Citizenship Education 9, so those students have kind of picked up the ball with that funding and are doing the project now at the cenotaph,” said Ramey.
North Queens Community School recently ordered a Vimy Oak tree, which it received a couple of weeks ago from the Vimy Foundation.
Vimy Oaks are saplings that are descended from the oak trees that were blasted to shards after the Battle of Vimy Ridge was won by Canadians, a significant victory for the soldiers of the fledgling nation.
According to the Vimy Foundation website, a soldier from Ontario named Leslie Miller looked around for a souvenir on the ridge, which had been left completely devoid of structures or vegetation due to the heavy shell fire, but he did find a half-buried oak tree and gathered up a handful of acorns, which he later planted on farmland at home in Ontario.
Today, the descendants of those acorns from Vimy Ridge are part of the Vimy Oak project. Saplings from the oaks planted in Ontario are now being planted in France to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, as well as at select locations across Canada to serve as a living memorial of the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers.
Students planted the Vimy sapling Oct. 20. While students were planting the tree, they began to discuss the fact the area is in disrepair and the stone needs some work.
There’s no longer a local legion branch, so the area looks a little neglected, said Ramey.
Grade 9 students started to spruce up the cenotaph in Caledonia Oct. 25.
“They have come up with a lengthy list of projects and things that they have kind of tackled to make the area look better and to better commemorate what it’s there to do,” Ramey said.
Avery Mullen is one of the students participating in the project. He said students planted tulips around the cenotaph. Extra tulips that didn’t fit around the cenotaph will either go around the Vimy Oak or the flagpole.
“They built a bench while they were down there today, lowered the flagpole, gave it some paint, so just put a little bit of energy and enthusiasm into the area,” said Ramey.
Andrian Freeman, another Grade 9 student, said it’s important for Caledonia’s cenotaph to look good because it’s a place to remember war veterans.
Although students have already put lots of work into the site, they’re already talking about other improvements they can make in the future. One of the ideas is to put solar lights around the cenotaph to give it more of a presence at night. The plan is for the cenotaph project to continue in the spring, at which time students hope to work on a new flagpole.
This year, students from grades Primary to 12 will head down to the cenotaph Nov. 10 to honour Remembrance Day.
To learn about Vimy Oaks, visit https://www.vimyfoundation.ca/vimy-oaks/.