Toronto Archives

Pilgrimage to Vimy

Pilgrimage to Vimy web banner

When Canadians reflect on the part we played during the First World War, the Battle of Vimy Ridge is one of the pivotal events we recall. This battle, which took place on April 9 to 12, 1917, was the first time that all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force fought together. The capture of the ridge was a significant accomplishment and we remember all who fought on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 2017.

The Canadian National Vimy Memorial serves as the place of commemoration for Canadian soldiers killed in Europe during the First World War. Toronto sculptor Walter Allward designed the impressive monument which was dedicated on July 26, 1936. The dedication ceremony attracted over 6,200 Canadian veterans and their families who travelled to France for its unveiling as part of the Vimy pilgrimage.

Crowds around Vimy Memorial
Crowds gathered around Vimy Memorial
ca. 1936
Library and Archives Canada
R1196-14-7-E

The Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League first announced a Vimy pilgrimage for all ex-servicemen and women in their Legionary magazine in July 1934.

Official Piligrimage to Vimy and the Battlefields pamphlet, 1934  Official Piligrimage to Vimy and the Battlefields pamphlet, 1934, reverse side

Official pilgrimage to Vimy and the battlefields pamphlet
1934
City of Toronto Archives
Series 1099, Item 146

This pamphlet produced December 1934 was available to Toronto City staff in 1935 and outlines all preliminary information including cost. 

The City of Toronto took an interest in supporting the Vimy pilgrimage. Recognizing that many Toronto civil servants were veterans, Council passed a motion on January 28, 1935 that all ex-servicemen in the City's employ be permitted to attend the pilgrimage. Department heads had permission to allow staff to combine their 1935 vacation with their, as yet unearned, 1936 vacation to have sufficient holiday to participate.

Staff members were to fill out a special vacation form just for this purpose. Many City staff took four to six weeks' vacation for the three and a half week pilgrimage. Some went after the unveiling in August or even took unpaid leave.

Parks Department staff vacation request for the Vimy pilgrimage, 1935  Parks Department staff vacation request for the Vimy pilgrimage, 1935

Parks Department staff vacation request for the Vimy Ridge pilgrimage.
1935
City of Toronto Archives
Series 487, File 526, Items 1 and 2

See transcription of documents

Group of Parks staff on steps of Old City Hall, prior to Vimy pilgrimage


Group of Health Department staff, on steps of Old City Hall prior to Vimy Pilgrimage
July 4, 1936
City of Toronto Archives
Series 372, Subseries 32, Item 870

 Group of Works Dept. staff on steps of Old City Hall, prior to Vimy pilgrimage


Group of Works Department staff, on steps of Old City Hall prior to Vimy Pilgrimage
July 6, 1936
City of Toronto Archives
Series 372, Subseries 41, Item 416

The Board of Control requested that civic departments pass on pilgrimage information to City staff.  An information session was held in City Hall Council Chamber on August 9, 1935 with representatives of the Ocean Steamships Companies and Cook's Tours in attendance.  Information pamphlets and application forms were also available to City staff.

Letter from City Clerk to Toronto City staff


Letter from Toronto City Clerk
July 31, 1935
City of Toronto Archives
Series 487, File 526, Item 3

See transcription of document

Application form for City staff to participate in Vimy pilgrimage

Application for participation in official pilgrimage to Vimy and the battlefields
1935
City of Toronto Archives
Series 1099, Item 189

Toronto City Council decided to send an official representative of the City to lay a wreath at the unveiling of the Vimy monument. On June 10, 1936, Council authorized the expenditure of $450.00 to send Alderman Ernest Bray of Ward 8 to travel first class to France with a few days' stay in France and in England. Bray had served in the First World War from 1916 to 1919, and had been wounded on April 28, 1917.

Alderman Bray's First World War personnel records can be found on the Library and Archives Canada website.

Portrait of Alderman Ernest Bray


Portrait of  Alderman Ernest Bray
January 9, 1930
City of Toronto Archives
Fonds 1266, Item 18969

The Vimy pilgrims from Toronto began their journey on July 15, 1936 when they boarded five special trains to Montreal. Leaving Montreal by ship on July 16, the pilgrims landed in France on July 25.

Vimy pilgrims at Union ststion
Vimy pilgrims at Union Station

July 15, 1936
City of Toronto Archives
Fonds 1266, Item 40766


Menu cover from SS Montcalm

Menu cover from SS Montcalm

1936
City of Toronto Archives
Series 340, Subseries 7, File 10, Item 1

Vimy pilgrims leaving Union station for Montreal


Vimy pilgrims leaving Toronto for Montreal by train
July 15, 1936
City of Toronto Archives
Fonds 1266, Item 40767


Menu from the SS Montcalm

Menu from SS Montcalm

1936
City of Toronto Archives
Series 340, Subseries 7, File 10, Item 1

SS Montcalm
SS Montcalm

Library and Archives Canada
PA-056955

Ticket stub for SS Montcalm


3rd class ticket stub for SS Montcalm
July 23, 1936
City of Toronto Archives
Series 340, Subseries 7, File 10, Item 2

Canadian Legion Vimy pilgrimage ID button
Canadian Legion Vimy pilgrimage

1936
City of Toronto Archives
Series 340, Subseries 7, File 9, Item 1

This ID button showing the ship's letter and company number, was part of the pilgrimage kit each participant was given. The kit also included a haversack, a beret, a Vimy pilgrimage medal and a guide book.

King Edward VIII unveiling the figure of Canada on the Vimy Ridge Memorial
King Edward VIII unveiling the figure of Canada on the Vimy Ridge Memorial
July 26 1936
Library and Archives Canada
PA-148880

Pilgrims could send postcards with a special Vimy stamp from this mobile post office.

Postcard sent from Vimy Reverse of postcard sent from Vimy Vimy Post Office

Postcard sent from Vimy Post Office
July 26, 1917
City of Toronto Archives
Series 340, Subseries 7, File 8

Vimy Post Office
July 26, 1917
City of Toronto Archives
Series 340, Subseries 7, File 9

As a souvenir, the Legionary printed the book The Epic of Vimy that included photos sent in by pilgrims. The book could be ordered for $2.00 plus postage.

Imager of 'The Epic at Vimy' book, published by the The Legionary
The Epic of Vimy

W.W. Murray (Editor)
The Legionary (Canadian) Magazine of the British Service Empire League
(Ottawa 1936)

For additional sources on the Vimy Memorial and pilgrimage please see:


Back to: Toronto Archives