Planning a Trip?

I receive many emails from those wishing to visit the Canadian Great War sites of Flanders and Vimy requesting information on directions, places to stay, timing and transportation.

Since my last visit to region, I have written a 29 page booklet outlining suggested answers to these questions plus added information that may assist in making your visit more economical & time efficient.

Please click here for information on how to obtain this booklet.

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Introduction

I have two reasons for posting this site.
Primarily, I wish to raise awareness and interest for this topic. Between 1914 and 1918, Canada sent approximately 650,000 men and women to participate in the "Great War" and over 66,000 Canadians gave their lives in the effort.
They all deserve to be remembered and honoured. 

"If ye break faith with us who die - We shall not sleep"(John McCrae)

Secondly, it is my wish to assist anyone interested in touring the region so that they may find sites of interest and better enjoy the hospitality of the Belgian and French people.
After many visits to the region, my enthusiasm for the region only increases with familiarity.

I welcome any questions, suggestions, additions or comments.

Getting to Belgium

The flight from Toronto to Brussels can take about seven hours on a direct flight although, you may find that direct flights are more rare than you may have first believed. There are many more options available to you should you fly to Amsterdam or Paris and then on to either the Vimy or Flanders region. Both airports have rail connections and, as you'll discover, the European rail service is fast, frequent and fairly easy to understand.

It will be much easier for you to rent a car for the battlefields and grave sites but city to city travel is very easy by rail. Rail passes are well worth considering but expensive. The TGV trains are very fast and the best way to travel. It would take slightly more than 2 hours to drive from The Charles DeGaulle Airport outside of Paris to Arras & Vimy while the TGV would travel from central Paris to Arras in about 55 minutes.

Brussels is a great city but your "enjoyment factor" could easily be fulfilled by travelling into the city from another area. I might recommend Leuven (Louvain), Ghent or Bruge over Brussels. 

No matter what your mode of travel may be, I have found that the best approach to discovering the  Canadian places of interest is to base yourself in  both Ieper, Belgium (known as Ypres during the war) and Arras, France.

Should you wish to "get right to it" it would be to your advantage to travel straight through to Ieper (Ypres). It is less than a two hour drive from the airport. If you have the time, stop in Ghent. There is a huge underground parking area right at the centre of the city. Any travel book will be sure to include all the attractions of Ghent.

Getting to Ieper (Ypres)

Highway travel in Belgium is fast and easy. You can go from the Brussels area to practically anywhere in the nation in less than 2 or 3 hours. Day trips are easily done should you decide to stay in one place.

To drive to Ieper from Brussels, just get onto the E40 motorway and travel west toward Ghent. At Ghent (roughly) turn onto the E17 southbound toward Kortrijk where you pick up the A19. Follow the signs to Ieper (Ypres). Travelling from Brussels/Leuven, you would be on the road for about 90 minutes to 2 hours, depending on your pace.

Be sure to read up on the background of Ieper and the Canadian efforts during the Great War before arrival. You've got lots of time on the plane or in the airport to catch up on some good reading. The more you read and prepare - the more you can make of your time and understanding of the region.

Ieper was known by the Canadians and British as Ypres (pronounced Wipers by many of the Veterans) but today we are back to Ieper (pronounced as it looks). Ieper is the Flemish name - Ypres is the French.

I have stayed at a number of hotels and B&B's in the area and each has its own charm .

(more contact information, maps and phone numbers are available
in my booklet - mentioned above)

While staying at Ieper do not miss the "In Flanders' Fields" museum housed in the Cloth Hall. The gift shop at the museum will give you the opportunity to purchase many books that will enhance your stay in this area. I would also reccommend the Paachendaele Museum located in Zonnebeke.

For the very serious explorer, I would strongly suggest buying Major & Mrs. Holt's Battlefield Guide for the Ypres Salient with the accompanying map of the area. Its detail (although very British in leaning) will make the experience near perfect. Be sure to also buy For King and Empire: The Canadians at Ypres 22nd - 26th April 1915, by Norm Christie. This book can be found in better bookstores in Canada (Bunker to Bunker Books of Winnipeg) and also in Ypres. The background and history it explains makes the book worth while.

A two block walk from the town square you will find the Menin Gate. This is spectacular! Every night at 8:00 p.m. under the Menin Gate all traffic comes to a halt while the last post is played to honour the the memory and sacrifice of the war's dead. The names of all who died and whose resting place is unknown are carved into this memorial. I have had the pleasure of staying often in Ieper and have always attended the "Last Post". The ceremony will vary from day to day and each is moving in its own way.


  

 

Ieper (Ypres), postcards dated from 1917 and Belgium as it appears in 1918.
Postcards taken by Ern Thill of Brussels.

The city of Ieper (Ypres), Belgium, as it looks today

A Tour of the Ieper Region

As you can see from the map, touring the area around Ieper can be done almost in a circle. Leaving the city through the Menin Gate, travel along to Zillebeke following the signs. You will find that thinking in terms of direction in Belgium could cause confusion. The north-south, east-west grid system is not in effect and it will not take long to lose all sense of direction.

click graphic to see full sized printable map

Take note along the way of all the small grave sites. Many of these were in fact shell holes used to bury the dead at the time of battle and were groomed after the war. The condition of all the grave sites - and there are many - is completely beautiful and respectful. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the people of Belgium deserve high praise for their care of these cemeteries. You would not be the first Canadian to observe, with a certain degree of shame, that the condition of our Canadian dead in Belgium often surpasses the care and respect offered at home.

Off the main road, you will see the sign for  Hill 62. As the map shows, Hill 62 will be off to the right but the turn is well marked, complete with our red Maple Leaf indicating the monument. 

Stop first at the pub / museum ! It is great and offers you a chance to walk around a well preserved portion of the old Canadian trenches and tunnel. Wear boots ! Even a dry day will show you a sign of the mud and water that our soldiers lived with daily. A word of warning , however --- There are many who notice the typically "helpful" atmosphere found elsewhere in Flanders to be missing at the Hill 62 Museum. After you pay for your ticket to enter, you are on your own.

I would suggest you read up on the battle for Hill 62 - this will greatly help in your appreciation of the area. Be sure to check out my Home Page for TheGreatWar.ca and read through the section of Major Engagements.


Don't be in too much of a rush for this stop - the museum is fabulous! Be sure to look at all the pictures in the stereoscopes. You will also enjoy a slow walk through the Canadian trench lines. You won't find a more authentic "battlefield".


At the top of the road you will find the Canadian Memorial. Please sign the visitors book, located in the "tabernacle-like" door near the gate. You will find these books at every site and grave yard in the area. In an age of cut-backs it may become necessary to leave our appreciation at every stop to help insure continued government support. Bring a pen - the pens often go missing - in fact, bring extra pens and replace the missing ones for the sake of others behind you!

Again, after back tracking a short distance move up the main road to view the Hooge Crater Museum By this point in your tour you will be glad to have read everything possible about the Canadian War effort in the region. The more you know- the more you will appreciate what you are seeing!

On To Tyne Cot and Passendale (Passchendaele)

Follow a map! It is quite easy to get lost but the silver lining to this is that you spend more time in the Flanders countryside. You should also take the time to drive into Zonnebeke and experience the Passchendaele Museum. Within three or four kilometres of the town of Passendale (note that spellings vary) take the time to turn into the Tyne Cot Cemetery. It is huge, beautiful and a must for all taking this pilgrimage.

The battle at Passendale (Passchendaele) will always stand as a memorial to misery, mud and waste. Here, 16,000 Canadians died taking a sea of mud from the Germans. Our British commander, Sir Douglas Haig, felt the need to spend lives like water and remembering this and the men who were sacrificed should not be overlooked. 

From the cemetery you will see church at the centre of the town of Passendale and the farmland that about ninety years ago, literally, swallowed up the men. The Canadian monument is located in the town, over-looking the battlefield. If you are standing in front of the church, you will see a straight road - Canadalaan - which leads to the Canadian Memorial. From the Tyne Cot Cemetery, you do not need to go back to the main road. Take the small road fronting the cemetery straight through the battlefield and it will also take you past the Canadian monument and into the centre of the town.

Sint Juliaan (Saint Julien)

A five minute drive from Passendale you will find the Canadian monument (The Brooding Soldier) near Sint Juliaan. This is one of the most impressive sites of the area. This monument stands as a remembrance to those that experienced the first gas attack of the Great War during the Second Battle of Ypres in April of 1915. 

It was here that the Canadians were first tested in battle and held the line against the German offensive. There were no gas masks, just urine soaked rags to protect them against this new method of killing. It is interesting to note that the design for this monument was selected as second to the design which would be the placed at Vimy Ridge. Its beauty and dignity was not be wasted and it went to St. Juliaan instead. The surrounding parkland and imposing memorial is a must when touring the region.

From the monument, drive straight on and you will travel through Langemark. Just outside the town you will find the German Cemetery on your left. It is well worth the visit as it shows the differences between the atmosphere and layouts of the opposing sides. Back-tracking to the "Brooding Soldier", you can make your turn toward Ypres and Sint Juliaan. On your right, you will find a well-hidden and barely marked turn that will take you up to the memorial for the Canadians that attacked the German positions at Kitchener's Wood during the Battle of 2nd Ypres. The memorial is quite new and represents one of the more amazing feats of the Canadian forces during the war.

On your way back to Ieper, be sure to pay your respects at one of the many cemeteries. As you pass over the canal, on the outskirts of town turn right and you will see the Essex Cemetery and the actual battlefield hospital where John McCrae wrote "In Flanders' Fields".

For pictures of the region please check out TheGreatWar.ca's "Photo Gallery"

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Visiting Vimy Ridge

Vimy is located approximately 90 minutes from Ieper. Personally,  I think it is much better to stay in Arras to visit the Vimy area and perhaps take the 45 minute drive to view the Newfoundlanders' Battlefield at Beaumont-Hamel.

Arras is only a 10 minute drive from the Vimy Memorial. It offers a great setting for your visit and allows you to be totally unrushed in your visit to the Vimy grounds. There are two large underground  parking facilities located in Arras. My booklet lists a number of Hotels and the best parking facilities in the town.

Driving from Ypres, take the A19 to the E17 and south toward France. The E17 becomes the A22. Just past the city of Lille. Take the A1 on to the E15 and follow the signs for Vimy.

You will pass through a French motorway toll so be prepared. Take a ticket and pay when you leave the motorway

Should you wish to take a route that is "more as the crow flies", you won't regret it - just remember to take a great map, some patience and a navigator. This route will take you along the old trench line from the war. For this route, follow the signs out of the "Lille Gate" of Ieper for Armentiers and on passed Lille and Lens - try to avoid Lille.

Depending on the route taken, just past Lens you will see the Vimy Memorial high on the ridge overlooking the Douai Plain. Stop and enjoy the site!

Should you arrive in Arras by train, it should be realized that there is no direct public transportation from Arras to the Vimy Memorial site. The memorial is located less than 10 km from the train station. The simplest way is to take a taxi or rent a car. There are car rental agencies just outside of the station.

There is a local train that runs from Arras to Vimy Village but it is not very convenient as the station is still 5 km away from the site.  The TGV rail from Paris to Arras is 55 minutes and makes a number of trips per day.

Most visitors will travel from Paris' Charles DeGaulle Airport. This is easily done and you can visit the many sites at the Somme battlefield & Beaumont hamel along the way. Exact directions and stops of interest are in my booklet.

The Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge is the largest and most impressive monument of the First War. The grounds are spectacular. There is the addition of a small museum / information building (called the Historical Interpretive Centre). Here you may talk to guides and enjoy a very good slide presentation of the history of the ridge.


Very Important!!

If you visit during the "off-season" be prepared to be told that due to spring water conditions, the tunnels may not be open. !!

Groups of less than 10 can not book in advance and are asked to go to the Visitor Centre upon their arrival to sign up for the next available tour.
 
Calling ahead might not help inform you of the conditions as they change hourly.

If you still wish to call the Memorial site for information:
contact the centre (03.21.50.68.68 - from Canada 011-33-3-21-50-68-68)


There is no charge for this service and it is truly wonderful. The guides will escort you through the tunnel system and give you a day that will rank as the high point of your vacation. The battle scarred terrain from the shelling and warning signs keeping visitors from still dangerous areas bring the war and the sacrifice to life.

Take your time to walk around the memorial - it is well worth it. Two Canadian cemeteries are located within the boundaries of the memorial grounds. The view from the top of the ridge explains why this was a key position in the war and necessary to hold and a disaster for the German forces to lose.

On a clear day, you can see the entire Douai plain...
and so could the Canadian artillery!

Merci Beaucoup, Jean-Marc LeLong (Bois-Bernard, France) for this photos, taken February 2, 2007.

   

and this photo taken April 7, 2007 during the musical performance - a part of the 90th Anniversary ceremony.

 


Many Thanks to Jim Brown for passing along this picture of the Vimy Memorial  - taken on November 12, 2006 during the restoration work.

    

These pictures were taken during my visit to Vimy in October & November of 2005.

... and this picture provided by Mr. Tony Greco of the memorial & its scaffolding as of July 13, 2005

Canada's Vimy Memorial, 2013

 

 

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Planning a Trip?

I receive many emails from those wishing to visit the Canadian Great War sites of Flanders and

 Vimy requesting information on directions, places to stay, timing and transportation.

Since my last visit to region, I have written a 29 page booklet outlining suggested answers to these questions plus added information that may assist in making your visit more economical & time efficient.

Please click here for more information on how to obtain this booklet & its contents.

For pictures of the region please check out
TheGreatWar.ca 's Photo Gallery

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Vimy Memorial Facts

  • This design was chosen from 160 submissions.
  • Sculpted by Walter S. Allward of Toronto.
  • In 1922 the government of France gave the 91.18 hectares or 250 acres of land to Canada in perpetuity   (Actually it was Brigadier Henry Hughes, Royal Canadian Engineers, who was personally assigned the mission to obtain lands for both Vimy and the Flanders memorials.)
  • The base used 11,000 tonnes of concrete.
  • The 2 pylons and figures took another 5,500 tonnes of stone.
  • Stones were taken from a quarry near Split, Croatia because this was the site where stones were taken to build a third century Roman Palace that had proven to withstand the “test of time”. (Also acquired through the work of Brigadier Henry Hughes, Royal Canadian Engineers)
  • Actual sculpting took place in France.
  • It took 11 years to complete at a cost of $1.5 Million.
  • The base measures just under 75 metres across.
  • The 2 pylons (representing both Canada and France are each 45 mtres high.
  • The figures of the Memorial stand for peace, justice, truth, knowledge and sacrifice while the largest is carved from a 30 tonne block representing a “brooding Canada” watching over the graves of her dead.
  • On the base are carved the 11,285 names of those Canadians listed as missing and presumed dead in France during the war.
  • The Memorial was dedicated on July 26, 1936 by King Edward VIII.

From Canada and the Battle of Vimy Ridge 9-12 April, 1917
by Brereton Greenhous & Stephen J. Harris


page 2   Photo Gallery, Links and Poetry
page 3 
  Private Leo Kelly's Letter from Vimy Ridge
page 4  Photographs, comments and suggestions from friends of this site

 .... back to TheGreatWar.ca  

'Lest We Forget

 

site managed & written by John Stephens

last updated:  August 2014

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Vimy for  a Vimy" Campaign

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In exchange for your donation, you will receive a Vimy Pin and your name will be added to the list of Vimy 2017 supporters. Donations of $20 and higher will receive a donation receipt for income tax purposes.

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