By Micaal Ahmed
In a poll conducted by the Vimy Foundation last year, 60 per cent of the respondents believed that in 1917 — in the midst of a bloody battlefield — the country of Canada became a nation. And now, 100 years later, a reminder from that battlefield has been restored and preserved by the Lincoln and Welland Regiment Foundation.
“In a lot of ways, Vimy Ridge helped shape Canada as a nation,” said Garry Guitard, chair of the Vimy Foundation, in a press release. “It’s important to hold on to the tangible pieces left behind from that history — things you can see first hand.”
After taking Vimy Ridge, men of the 7th Battalion (1st British Columbia), Canadian Expeditionary Force, captured a German field howitzer — more specifically a 105-millimetre leFH-16 — outside the small French farming village of Farbus, on April 13, 1917.
“The gun may have been abandoned days earlier, when German gun crews proved unable to move their artillery after their horses were hit by a gas attack,” stated the press release. “The gun is one of four howitzers and a naval gun captured on April 13.”
“By April 14, Canadian troops, unable to move their own artillery forward, had captured several enemy guns and used a number of them to attack the Germans with their own shells.”
And this freshly restored gun seems to be one of them.
After the war ended, soldiers wanted to bring home objects symbolizing their achievements, and hence the government established the War Trophies Commission, which allocated such trophies. And while these trophies remained the property of the Crown, they were entrusted to different communities and organizations.
This gun was one such trophy, and was sent to what is today part of the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The gun is believed to have arrived in Niagara in the early 1920s, “being placed in front of the village school in Queenston.” And, “in 1926, the village cenotaph was unveiled; the gun was moved there at some point later, where it remained for decades,” according to the press release.
“In 1992 the gun’s custodianship was turned over to what is now the Niagara Artillery Association, which committed to restoring the weapon and finding a new place to display it. However, the Association did not have the resources to do more than sandblast and paint it, and in 1997 the gun was moved to Butler’s Barracks in Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
Then, in 2009, the foundation took over the custody of the gun, and started the restoration process with the help of various volunteers. The restoration was eventually completed in 2016, and the gun was unveiled in tandem with the battle’s 100th anniversary this year. The gun is currently being kept in the armoury at St. Catharines, but will become a permanent public display in the Niagara Military Heritage Centre, after it is built in the upcoming years, according to Drew Neufeld, the museum manager for the centre.