A group of students from Cambridge Bay listened while the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers were read out at the Vimy Memorial during the centennial ceremony for the Battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9.
“Their last names were repetitive so they had to be brothers or relatives,” said Kiilinik High School student Savanna Moore, 16.
The group has been raising funds to attend the memorial for two years. They left Cambridge Bay on April 2 and began their European trek with a few nights in London, then carried on to Lille to do a full battlefield tour through northern France and southern Belgium, which included a visit to the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres to honour fallen Canadian soldiers.
The youth laid poppies at graves they visited along the way, including at the German cemetery.
“Looking at the landscape and seeing how easy it was for the guys to get killed, that was pretty hard for me,” said Moore.
Students also visited the Newfoundland Regiment Memorial at Beaumont-Hamel, which recognizes a regiment that died in the Battle of the Somme during the First World War.
“It was nice but it was hard. Seeing all the crosses row after row, it was sad,” said student Erika Macpherson, also 16.
Prior to the trip, the travellers studied the regions they would be visiting and the significant battles.
And for each museum they visited, each student would record at least five things they learned at the historic stop.
Not just for fun
The trip requires considerable commitment for students, including extra studies and weekly bake sales. Kiilinik social studies teacher Patti Bligh said the school has seen that students who do the European trip are also students who are highly likely to graduate, despite high drop-out rates for high schools in the territory.
“This is a gift, an inspiration to move on with your life in ways that are positive and beautiful and fun. And once you get that travel bug in, you have got to figure out a way to feed it,” she said.
To further this, the youth wrapped up their trip with a tour of Edmonton universities on April 14, led by students from Cambridge Bay who are currently attending post-secondary school.
“It’s all intending to show them, if you really enjoy travelling, to be honest you need to have a good-paying job and the best way to get a good-paying job is to get an education.”
Before that though, travellers ended their trip with three days in Paris, “because we’ll always have Paris,” said Bligh.
Remembering their own
On their final evening in Paris, students took time to light votive candles at a church overlooking the city, as a way to remember one youth from their group who had died from suicide prior to the trip.
Bligh said the youth’s spirit was with them throughout the journey.
“We made the connection that night at Sacré-Coeur Basilica between all the young men, the soldiers’ lives and the crosses,” said Bligh. “I think that’s why the kids were more attune to that part, is that these men also lost their lives in ways that we can’t always explain reasons for.”
On a practical note, the youth also came home more travel-savvy, having learned to avoid street theft and how to go through international airport security.
“It helped me get ready for when I travel alone and to know what the outside world is like,” said Moore.
“I would definitely like to go back,” said Macpherson. “It’s something that sticks with you.”