Canadian Overseas Memorials Granted World Heritage Status

St. Julien Memorial “The Brooding Soldier,” Belgium © Veteran Affairs Canada

A collection of Canadian memorials from the First World War have been granted UNESCO World Heritage status, a designation that honours the history and upholds the significance of each site.

The designations were extended to 139 cemeteries and memorial sites, including the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial in France, and the St. Julien Memorial “The Brooding Soldier” in Belgium.

“I find those cemeteries very powerful places, sites of memory and sites of mourning,” historian Tim Cook told The Ottawa Citizen. “You feel the weight of history there. I’ve never met a Canadian who hasn’t been physically moved by the experience. The cemeteries have always held a significant and a haunting place in the Canadian imagination.”

canadian memorials
Canadian National Vimy Memorial, France © Veteran Affairs Canada

The Canadian National Vimy Memorial honours all Canadians who served during the First World War. The memorial bears the names of those who died in France with no known grave, located at the site of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. 

Similarly, the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial site is a tribute to the Newfoundland soldiers who served during the war. The memorial features a bronze caribou, which is the emblem of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

The St. Julien Canadian Memorial commemorates the actions of the Canadian First Division during the Second Battle of Ypres. There, Canadians withstood the first gas attacks of the First World War.

More than 66,000 soldiers from Canada and Newfoundland died during the First World War, all of whom are buried or commemorated in Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries, many of which are among the honoured sites.

Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, France © Veteran Affairs Canada

Speaking to the historic designation, The Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence, issued a statement.

“I was delighted to learn of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee decision to inscribe the Funerary and memory sites of the First World War (Western Front) on the World Heritage List. This World Heritage site includes 139 cemeteries and memorial sites of the First World War, including the Canadian National Vimy Memorial and the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial in France, as well as the St. Julien Memorial “The Brooding Soldier” in Belgium. Thank you to the French and Belgian delegation for advancing this important initiative.

“These Memorials provide a space to pay respects to the hundreds of thousands who fought for peace and freedom, and the thousands more who gave their lives in its pursuit during the First World War.

“Commemorating those who served and died for our country is a profound responsibility borne by every generation of Canadians. This designation by the World Heritage Committee will further safeguard our Memorials and the grounds on which they stand, allowing for the stories of brave Canadian soldiers to continue to be shared with the world.

“We look forward to working with our commemorative partners to ensure that all those who served and sacrificed in the First World War are remembered.

“Lest we forget.”

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