Niagara Catholic students heading to Vimy Ridge to mark battle’s 100th anniversary


In 2015, Joseph Oreskovich embarked on a tour of the French battlefields of the First and Second World Wars.

As a Grade 10 history teacher at Saint Paul Catholic High School in Niagara Falls, he jumped at the opportunity to see the historic sites he talks about in class.

Among the sites he visited during his nine-day tour was the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France.

“You’re awestruck when you see the monument and when you walk through the tunnels and trenches and you can’t help really but become overwhelmed by the whole scene,” Oreskovich recalled.

The victory at the Battle of Vimy Ridge is considered a defining moment for Canada. More than 10,000 soldiers were killed or wounded.

“Words and descriptions can’t really do it justice,” Oreskovich said.

“When you see how many shell craters are around – and the land was flat before the battle – it just resonates with you that this was a violent scene back in 1917.”

Oreskovich will return to France this week to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Unlike his last trip, however, this excursion is not a solo journey.

More than 325 students in Grades 9 through 12 with the Niagara Catholic District School Board will leave for France this week for a 10-day educational pilgrimage to mark the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the battle.

The students will visit battlefields, cemeteries, museums and other historically significant sites.

Morgan Ellwood, a Grade 11 student at Saint Michael Catholic High School in Niagara Falls and member of 126 Air Cadets, has been preparing for the trip for almost two years.

“The cadet in me said this is where the Canadian army was so I should be there to mark this special anniversary,” said the 16-year-old, who will be making the trip with 27 fellow students.

Saint Michael vice principal Mary-Ann McKinley was inspired to attend the commemoration event after hearing from students who had travelled to Vimy to mark the 95th anniversary.

“It was very emotional for them and said it changed their view on the war so I knew I had to go.”

The local students will take part in a ceremony April 9 alongside veterans, serving members of the military, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of the British royal family. More than 18,000 people are expected to attend the event.

“It will be such a strong feeling of patriotism,” Oreskovich said. “I’m sure it’s going to be a sea of red and white with Canada being represented from coast to coast.”

Taya Caesar, 16, is one of 39 Saint Paul High School students who will be attending the event.

She said helping to organize Remembrance Day services at her school last fall made her realize how important it was to commemorate Canada’s veterans.

“We played videos that show war scenes and you think to yourself how privileged we are to be safe in our own country,” the 16-year-old said.

Ryan Janzen, also 16, is one of 18 students from Holy Cross Catholic High School in St. Catharines who is traveling to Europe next week.

“I love history,” the Grade 11 student said. “It’s great that we have this opportunity to go over there.”

Principal Denice Robertson, who is also attending, agrees.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to be part of the celebration,” she said.

Glenn Gifford, principal at Lakeshore Catholic High School in Port Colborne, expects the trip will create memories that will last a lifetime for both students and staff.

“For me, it’s a wonderful opportunity to go and retrace the some of the steps the Canadian military took,” he said.

Thirty-four Lakeshore students are attending the trip.

“They’re going to have a very rewarding experience from a variety of different fronts. It will be such a memorable experience for them.”

The Niagara Catholic students will join thousands of students from across Canada in marking Canada’s most celebrated military victory.

Source and Photo Credits: Morgan Ellwood, a student at Saint Michael Catholic High School, and Taya Caesar, a student at Saint Paul High School, are among hundreds of students from the Niagara Catholic District School Board who are traveling to Europe to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.