Wallaceburg’s Raymond Yang is one of just 17 Canadian students to receive a Vimy Pilgrimage Award this year, meaning he’s on his way to France to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
Yang, 17, is a student at Wallaceburg District Secondary School.
The Vimy Pilgrimage Award consists of a fully funded, week-long educational program in France and Belgium to study Canada’s effort in the First World War. Yang will be out of the country from April 7-16.
The program will feature interactive education and visits to significant First World War battlefields, cemeteries, and memorials including the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.
Yang and his 16 fellow students were chosen from a list of hundreds of applicants. The Vimy Foundation recognizes the actions of young people who demonstrate outstanding service, positive contributions, and leadership in their communities.
Yang has a busy life outside of the classroom. He’s a United Way youth ambassador, and has done mental health workshops at his school. Yang has been active on student council, on the student athletic association and participates on a student-parent committee.
He’s been involved in youth camps, drug awareness campaigns and fundraising for institutions such as the Heart & Stroke Foundation and the Terry Fox Foundation. A recipient of the Principal’s Award for Student Leadership, the Rotary Youth Leadership Award and the Ubuntu Award, Chang has also recently attended a conference that encouraged his faith in the strength and resiliency of diversity.
Yang said he’s very excited to take part in the pilgrimage.
“I’m really proud to represent my own community. Sometimes, you might feel there are more opportunities in more urban areas, so it’s really a big deal to me to represent on a national and international scale,” he said.
Along with the 16 other Canadian students on the trip, Yang will be joined by students from Belgium, Great Britain, France, and Germany. On top of that, as this is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, thousands of other Canadians and visitors from around the world will be on hand during the week to mark the special date. It also happens to be Canada’s 150th birthday year.
“Those numbers just happen to match up. I’m really proud to go. We 17 kids who have been chosen in Canada to go, it really just shows off Canada’s diversity,” Yang said. “This makes us a much more bold, resilient and innovative country, I think.”
Yang credited a teacher, Andrew Sydorko, for piquing his interest in Canadian military history. He said Sydorko asked him to attend a Remembrance Day ceremony in the community, and during the drive, Sydorko told Yang of his great grandfather, Sgt. Henry Baptie.
“He was telling me how his great grandfather was in the Battle of the Somme (1916), one of the largest battles where Canada took a large role,” Yang said. “I was just nodding my head. Then he said his great grandfather died on the very last day of the battle.”
As part of Yang’s application process for the pilgrimage, he had to write about two Canadian soldiers of his choice. One had to come from the list of names on the Vimy Ridge Memorial, which not only marks the battleground, but also commemorates approximately 11,000 Canadian soldiers who went missing and were presumed dead during the First World War.
He chose Corp. Orval Yax Iden.
Iden lived in Dresden for a short time, sparking Yang’s interest.
The second name was an easy choice – Henry Baptie.
“I jumped to my teacher’s great grandfather. He’s buried in France. We’re hoping to go visit him if we have the time,” Yang said.
Yang credited local historian Jerry Hind with providing information.
Yang said he’s leaving Canada for a week, but not really.
“I’m going to explore a part of Canada that is outside Canada,” he said, as the Vimy Ridge Memorial is one of just two national historic sites located outside the country.
The Battle for Vimy Ridge marked the first time all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force fought on the same battlefield. Many look at the successful attack as a key growth point in the nation’s history.
The Vimy Foundation is sponsoring the pilgrimage and is a charity dedicated to preserving Canada’s legacy in the First World War.
Vimy Foundation Executive Director Jeremy Diamond noted in a release the importance of the battle.
“It was a seminal moment in our history, a victory that helped give us our own voice around the world.”