© Photos Courtesy of VISITFLANDERS.COM
By Allie Murray
The battlegrounds of the First World War, the resting place of thousands of veterans worldwide, and the subject of an iconic Canadian poem, Flanders Fields has history around every corner and stories that have passed from generation to generation.
From 1914 to 1918, Flanders Fields was the scene of the First World War—where hundreds of thousands of soldiers battled. Today, history has been restored through the In Flanders Fields Museum and the monuments surrounded by thousands of graves, honouring the soldiers that lost their lives in battle.
Nestled in the small town of Ypres, Belgium, Flanders Fields became the final resting place for thousands of soldiers, all of them being honoured through dedicated cemeteries for each country, with a total of more than 10,000 graves. Of those, nearly 1,100 are fallen Canadian soldiers.
Among them sits a monument dedicated to Canadian soldier Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, who is buried near Boulogne, France. McCrae battled in the war, dying towards the end of the war in January 1918 due to pneumonia.
McCrae became a well-known war hero who battled in Flanders Fields and is celebrated year after year in Canadian history. In 1915, just over a year into the war, McCrae’s friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer was killed in action and buried in a makeshift grave. As wild poppies grew between the crosses on the sides of Helmer’s grave, McCrae was inspired to write In Flanders Fields, a poem that is recited on Remembrance Day in Canada every year.
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow/ Between the crosses, row on row,/ That mark our place; and in the sky/ The larks, still bravely singing, fly/ Scarce heard amid the guns below.”
In McCrae’s birthplace, Guelph, Ont., his childhood home was converted into a museum, where visitors can explore war monuments and learn more about the Canadian icon. McCrae has also been honoured with a statue in Guelph and schools named after him in Guelph, Markham, London, Ottawa, and Toronto.
Plan Your Trip
Flanders is known not only for its war history but also for its cultural heritage, dating back hundreds of years. The region is filled with a variety of museums and art galleries to explore, including the Art and History Museum, the Musée Magritte Museum, UNESCO World Heritage Site Plantin-Moretus Museum, and so much more.
With a trip to Ypres, there is history to discover and countless experiences to be had. Belgium is well-known for its selection of beers—and there are more than 220 active breweries in the country! The beer is so well-loved that UNESCO added Belgian beer to its list of cultural experiences. For the best of both worlds, you can take the Belgian Beer and Battlefield tour and visit some of Belgium’s biggest breweries and First World War battlefields.
Chefs have made their mark in Belgium with its 94 Michelin-starred restaurants! With that accomplishment, Belgium has the highest density of first-class eating establishments globally, making it a foodie haven.
The cheese made in Belgium is out of this world—literally! A small cheesemaker, ‘t Groendal in West Flanders, supplies cheese to NASA. Astronaut Shannon Walker even brought the delicious cheese into space with her during her mission at the International Space Station.
Flanders is also home to world-class chefs, delicious street food, and of course, Belgian chocolatiers. From tours of Passchendaele, which was one of the battles during the war, to Remembrance Day events, to guided and self-guided tours of the battlefields, there are so many ways to discover the stories and history of Flanders Fields.