A legacy of honour, disgrace, sacrific and triumph

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For the Battle of Vimy Ridge’s 90th anniversary, award-winning Edmonton playwright Vern Thiessen wrote a remarkable play examining this crucial event in Canadian military history.

As we approach the battle’s 100th anniversary from April 9 to 12, St. Albert Catholic High School Theatre Arts program resurrects Vimy to honour the story of these soldiers that fought and died in those four days during the First World War.

Vimy runs at the Alberta Aviation Museum on the same four days the battle took place.

The Canadian Corps, made up of four divisions, captured and took control of German-held high ground in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France. The corps suffered 10,602 casualties: 3,598 were killed and 7,004 wounded.

“Taking the ridge was a victory for the Allies. It was a victory for Canada, but there was a cost and the four soldiers in the play symbolize that,” said director Debbie Dyer.

Set within the perimeter of a military field hospital, the piece examines how six individuals, five soldiers and a nurse, were affected by the attack.

“By the grace of God they survived. The difference between living and dying was often just centimeters. Survival was random. They made it, but they became casualties in different ways,” Dyer explained.

This particular battle on French soil brought together Canadians of different races, ethnic backgrounds, values and locations.

“Through the choice of four main characters, Vern shows the diversity of Canadian participation. None were soldiers, but they came together and had a different plan than the English and French.”

“There’s Mike (Gregory Parth), an Alberta Blood Indian. He’s the joker. He brings humour to the group. Jean-Paul (Ethan Lecavalier-Kidney) is from Quebec. He’s confrontational. Sid (Ben Kuchera) is the soft soul. He’s fond of every man. He makes you feel interesting. He’s a good listener. And Will (Kelton Libich) from Ontario is initially standoffish. He thinks of himself first and pushes others away.”

Another major character is Clare (Natalie LaBuik) a nurse tending the soldiers. In addition, Laurie (Spencer Yakymyshyn) is the man she loves, a Highlander who dies in battle.

Through flashbacks and gradual revelations, Thiessen reconstructs the horror and the healing.

“They are reminded they are survivors, but they also remember those who did not make it.”

Each solider is physically and psychologically affected by war. After inhaling mustard gas, Mike is unable to breathe properly or walk. Will’s arm and chest is full of shrapnel. Sid’s eyes are injured and his vision is gone. And Jean-Paul has nightmares.

“One thing they come to realize is that as Canadians they can succeed together regardless of diversity. That’s an asset we don’t see in other countries. The Battle of Vimy has often been described as the birth of our country because of that fact.”

Students in CTS modules have pitched in to build a wood and steel set. It transports easily and can be rebuilt quickly at the historical airplane hanger forming a theatre of the round.

During Vimy’s four-day run, cast and crew are collecting non-perishable food and/or monetary donations for the Edmonton Food Bank.

Preview

Vimy
St. Albert Catholic High Theatre Arts
April 9 to 12
At Alberta Aviation Museum
11410 Kingsway Ave.
Tickets: $25/students, seniors; $20/veterans. Call the school 780-459-7781

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About Author

Anna Borowiecki

Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.