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3 - Le front sur scène et à l'écran / The Front on Stage and Screen

Doing the Vimy Glide: Intersections of Landscape, Art, and Memory in Vern Thiessen’s Vimy

Jan Lermitte
p. 121-133


Le centenaire de la Première Guerre Mondiale (1914-1918) a suscité un intérêt renouvelé pour les récits de guerre, aussi bien au Canada qu’à travers le monde. Au Canada, cela se traduit le plus souvent par le souci quont les institutions de commémorer la première grande victoire militaire du Canada au cours de cette guerre, soit la bataille de la crête de Vimy. Cet important récit anime encore la conscience nationale et se rapporte, par l’intermédiaire de pratiques de commémoration, à la construction de lidentité canadienne. Apportant un point de vue artistique et contemporain à cette histoire, la pièce Vimy de Vern Thiessen montre à quel point l’identité individuelle, régionale et nationale des Canadiens s’est construite en rapport avec le mythe de Vimy. À travers le motif du "chant et de la danse" qui parcourt la pièce, que ce soit lutilisation de la musique comme appel à la camaraderie, ou du "vol plané" dans un paysage décimé comme appel à la bataille, l’article démontre que Thiessen manœuvre avec succès dans le territoire complexe de la commémoration et de la représentation historique de la bataille de Vimy.

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1In the early years after the end of WWI, the Battle of Vimy Ridge emerged as a primary signifier of Canadian identity and a keystone event that shaped Canada’s role on the international stage as an independent nation. After decades of movement into and out of the social and cultural Canadian landscape, Vimy has, since Pierre Berton’s well-received publication of Vimy in 1986, returned to the public eye via a resurgence of interest in war and history, as depicted in novels, non-fiction, plays, movies, documentaries, institutions such as the Canadian War Museum—and even through such contested sites as the proposal for a new memorial, ‘Mother Canada,’ who would hold out her arms over Green Cove in Cape Breton toward the Vimy Memorial in France.1 The Battle of Vimy Ridge and the Canadian Vimy Memorial which stands on the battle site continue to be the locus of Canada’s current representations of WWI, in conjunction with the trope of remembrance that dominates institutional and pedagogical discourses on war. This key event in Canada’s development as a nation is the focus of Vern Thiessen’s dynamic memory play, Vimy. When the play opened at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton in 2007 to coincide with Remembrance Day activities and the celebration of the ninetieth anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, director James MacDonald noted that the play’s focus is not really on the battle. "It’s really about relationships, memory and hopes—people rather than fighting," he argues. "It lends itself to exploring [the] inner mind instead of what would have happened."2 "The story," he adds, "brings immediacy to the events of 90 years ago."3

2This dramatic concern with relationships and memory is a somewhat different approach to war stories than war plays written by veterans in the years immediately after the Great War. Theatre researcher Alan Filewod argues that those plays were written as a kind of testimony or witness to actual events, and observes that the writers and actors were very concerned with historical accuracy, or "getting it right" (Filewod 2008). Neta Gordon’s recent examination of contemporary Canadian war literature takes a brief look at the "combatant novels" of the post war period and then lists John Gray and Eric Peterson’s 1978 musical drama, Billy Bishop goes to War, as the first in a series of historical post-war dramas. As Gordon sees it, the 1977 publication of Findley’s The Wars and the ensuing critical storm that followed it, paved the way for other texts that presented the historical "gaps" left out of official histories (Gordon 7). Billy Bishop is one of the first Canadian plays written from a position of "looking back." Thiessen, as a playwright who did not actually witness the war, joins a number of Canadian playwrights, including R. H. Thomson, Stephen Massicotte, and David French (to name a few), who are interested in interrogating and disrupting traditional or "official" representations of WWI conflicts, in order to create a new, arguably more relevant, depiction of war and its effects on the individuals who participated in it—not only the officers, who are the focus of plays such as Journey’s End (1929), but also the enlisted men and the nurses. In fact, Thiessen states in his introduction to the play that it "is not a play about war. It does not ask whether war is right or wrong, nor does it criticize or defend war, past or present" (v). Instead, he writes, "I wanted to discover how small actions can define us as individuals and as a nation" (v). One of the key questions he sought to answer is "What is the no-man’s land between reality and memory, truth and dream, history and mythology" (v). This question reflects the interest many "everyday" Canadians have in negotiating the space between the desire to commemorate and honour those Canadians who gave their lives in service to the country, and the current cultural milieu that privileges peace-keeping over combat.

3In her recent study of contemporary Canadian responses to WWI literature, Catching the Torch, Neta Gordon describes this "in-between" space, while noting the complicity of all Canadians who buy into a notion of history that ultimately makes all soldiers heroes. She writes:

On the one hand, the war is remembered as cataclysmic for Canadians in the same way it is remembered as such by other Western cultures, in particular the British—the "reluctant coming of age" is a consequence of coming to terms with the death of ideas. On the other hand, the story of the Canadian soldier in the First World War is also the story of a productive, progressive "initiation" and, as such, is reimagined within a complicated framework of nostalgia for a time and set of events that might reify a set of constructive values (about, for example, community or duty or justice). The anxieties and deliberations of literary critics form a good part of the cultural context for the corpus being considered in this study, as each text wrestles with what kind of narrative about Canada’s participation in First World War it is seeking to privilege. (Gordon 12)

4If we accept that Thiessen wrestled with the kind of narrative he wanted to create about Canada’s participation in WWI, we must begin our own interrogation of his text, as he did, with the questions about memory, myth, truth and history that the play reveals.

  • 4 Herb Wyile expands on this notion in Speaking in the Past Tense. He states that his main concern is (...)

5Herb Wyile claims in Speculative Fictions that contemporary Canadian historical novels often explore similar questions by subverting and disrupting traditional views of history.4 Although his analysis is centred on novels, current dramas about Canadian historical events or themes reflect a similar exploration. Wyile writes about novels that "Their presentation of history is fragmented, self-conscious, and discursively and generically heterogeneous, reflecting a wariness about the terms of—even the possibility of—historical representation" (Wyile 2002, 4). Arguably, Thiessen’s project, with its use of flash-backs, monologues about individual experiences, and scenes of racism and homoeroticism that defy the traditional "unified" story of Vimy, presents a revisionist history of sorts. Thiessen asks his contemporary audience to consider the spaces between reality and memory, truth and dream, history and mythology. He asks us to consider how trauma might change or distort our view of what has happened, and how our understanding of national myths might inform our contemporary reading of an event that has dominated our institutional discourse on national identity. Martin Löschnigg, in his recent article, "Theatricality and Remembrance in Anglo-Canadian Drama," states that Thiessen’s play "probes the ‘all-Canadian’ myth" by including soldiers from across Canada, including a nurse and men from various racial and ethnic backgrounds (158). He argues that Thiessen undermines the ‘unifying myth’ of Vimy by foregrounding "ethno-cultural tensions within the Canadian Expeditionary Force" (Löschnigg 158). These ethno-cultural tensions provide most of the conflict in Vimy, which then prepares the audience for the unifying actions surrounding the battle, and the more ambiguous ending which creates an atmosphere of sadness and regret. Integral to these scenes are Thiessen’s use of music and dance as one way to interrogate and disrupt traditional representations of this nation-defining event in Canadian history. The following analysis of this motif of song and dance will seek to confirm my argument that Thiessen wrote a historically based play that challenges the "official" story and that he, to use Wyile’s phrase, "occupied [himself] with finding and telling the stories of those left out of traditional history" (Wyile 2002, 5).

6Thiessen’s questions about reality and memory, history and mythology, permeate the play, through its emphasis on the memories of four soldiers and a nurse who find themselves together in a field hospital after the victory at the battle of Vimy Ridge. Moving back and forth between past and present, these broken individuals look to their memories of home, both in terms of landscape and of relationships, to make sense of their experiences, or in some cases, to try to forget. Although Thiessen uses historically accurate details of the Vimy battle to emphasize the historical veracity of the play, he also explores the myth-like aspects of the event through his use of theatrical effects and lighting. In a review of the original production of the play, director James McDonald calls Vimy a "stylized" production and argues that "the theatrical version of battle works on two levels: we give a certain idea of what it felt like, but more than that hope that it stimulates the audience’s imagination."5 McDonald’s production, a winner in four design categories at the 2007 Sterling Awards, set on an "earthen floor in the shadow of a dark-branched totem," emphasized the mythical landscape and First Nations origins of Canada.6 McDonald further elaborates that "the play is an elegy to these people rather than about politics or epic battle scenes."7 As such, the play includes details that are concerned with human relationships and the social constructs of early twentieth century Canada.

7Two of these "realistic" details in the play are representations of song and dance—details used in various forms by other contemporary playwrights in plays such as Dancock’s Dance, The Lost Boys, Billy Bishop Goes to War, and very recently, David Fennario’s Bolshevecki. Included in Thiessen’s text is a common soldiers’ song of the time: Frederick Wheeler’s "Here We Are, Here We Are Again" and a description of a dance-like movement called the "Vimy Glide," which was performed by soldiers as part of the battle strategy of the "creeping barrage." Thiessen notes in his "Acknowledgements" the influence of a number of texts, including Pierre Berton’s Vimy, which describe the Vimy glide in detail. Berton’s popular style, widely influential in Canada in the 1970’s and 80’s, made effective use of realistic details and anecdotal stories that portrayed "everyday" Canadians. In Berton’s Vimy, the description of the afternoon before the launch of the Battle of Vimy includes the specific names of songs played by regimental bands that were, in his opinion, "designed to banish unspoken questions from everybody’s minds" (198). Berton describes how the troops "sang and adjusted their equipment and drew their Mills bombs and extra rations, packed away their bully and biscuits, and wrote letters home [...]" (198). Thiessen’s descriptions of the period of waiting before the battle include J.P., Sid, Will and Mike checking their rations and enjoying some favorite treats: "Chocolate," "Cigarettes," and "Chewing gum" (50). These parallel passages indicate Thiessen’s decision to adopt some aspects of Berton’s anecdotal style, and his intention to include historically accurate details within his artistic vision of Vimy.

8Moreover, Thiessen’s use of a familiar wartime song, and the image of the "glide" as a macabre dance of death in the Vimy engagement appears to subvert conventional notions of the way that art serves people in society. In the play, the song becomes much more than an example of camaraderie between soldiers on the battlefield. Instead, it becomes a marker of emotional turmoil and social blindness to the traumatic post-war life of the soldier. Likewise, the Vimy Glide, which is denoted by the words, "one, two, three, glide," is practiced like a dance. However, this dance is actually a tool for the death of the enemy and in spite of its smooth gliding action (which would be next to impossible in the broken, muddy ground of No-Man’s Land) results in emotional stress, traumatic shock and sometimes death for the soldiers performing it.

9Wheeler’s song appears in two slightly different forms in two scenes of the play. The first appears at the end of Act One, and takes place in the final minutes while the soldiers wait for the whistle that will signal the command to go over the top of the trenches to engage in the battle and begin the creeping barrage.The men have been waiting for several hours, gathering together their gear, rations and ammunition, writing letters home, and mentally preparing for battle. Their conversation is reminiscent of gunfire: short phrases dominated by consonance, such as "Gotta rest the guns" and "Cold, so cold," spoken to one another in quick succession. They describe the smells, the shadows on the walls, the tasks that keep them busy. No mention is made of home. In the final minutes before engagement, the men sit silently, light cigarettes to calm their nerves and then begin to sing, "softly and slowly" (53):

When Tommy went across the field to bear the battle’s brunt Of course he sang this little song, marching to the front And when he’s walking through Berlin he’ll sing the anthem still He’ll sit down and say, ‘How are you Uncle Bill.’ (54-55)

10This first verse describes the soldiers’ expectation to march "across the field to bear the battle’s brunt" and to survive, then triumphantly arrive in Berlin to ironically (and peacefully) address "Uncle Bill" Kaiser Wilhelm II. The second verse begins with the line, "Here we are, here we are, here we are again…" and reinforces the sense of unity that Thiessen highlights. Through the reference to common Anglo-Saxon names ("Pat and Mac and Tommy and Jack and Joe" and the phrase "now we’re altogether," 55), the lines also emphasize the "comradeship of the trenches" that Pierre Berton, in his version of the Vimy narrative, argues is what many veterans refer to as the most meaningful aspect of their time on the front (Berton 160). Music and singing are often considered activities that boost soldiers’ morale—and in this passage, the men use the song to bolster their own flagging spirits as they wait in the silence of the underground tunnels, preparing for the battle that may have a fatal result. As the men sing in unison the final chorus, the sense of sharing in a communal act that will have important consequences is emphasized, and then reinforced, by a drift into silence. Thiessen’s stage directions, "They now think, feel, breathe, as one" (54), support the sense of camaraderie that the song has established, as well as the strong sense of purpose and sacrifice that their service requires. Sherrill Grace, in her analysis of the play, alludes to this unifying aspect of the story:

The climax of the play occurs as these wounded men re-enact in memory and imagination the hours of that battle when Canadian troops fought together and won a decisive victory. Instead of arguing and insulting each other, instead of each man using his language in preference to all other languages, instead of insisting on the pronouns "I" and "je," they shift into speaking as a chorus, together, saying ‘we’ and ‘nous’: ‘We need to work fast. We need to work smart. We need to work together … Et nous avons besoin de tout le monde.’ (Thiessen 44-45 as quoted in Grace 2009, 98-99)

11Although the scene Grace describes here occurs before the men sing together, it clearly prepares the audience for the unifying action of singing the song together at the end of Act One. However, when Act Two begins, instead of focusing on the battle, as we might expect, Thiessen draws us back to the lives of the individuals through a series of flashbacks that tell revisionist stories of the war. This disruption, I argue, is one of the ways in which Thiessen challenges the notion of the unifying myth of Vimy.

12The second use of the song occurs in the "present" of the field hospital as the young men recount their memories of the battle. Sid is an infantryman, 4th division, from Winnipeg, and the first to sing in each scene. He has just shared his memory of his rescue by one of the Highlanders who took the Ridge, a man that we recognize as Laurie, the lover of the nurse, Clare. As Laurie saves Sid’s life, he is tragically killed. Sid describes his memories of Laurie’s death: "Feel over to his face. Blood. And he goes cold. So cold [...] But I was so warm [...]" (73). In the scene, Clare, upset by this news, leaves. The stage directions state that the soldiers, in response, "don’t know what to do, what to feel" so they begin to sing (73). As they sing the final chorus, unbeknownst to the others, Sid succumbs to his injuries and dies. In this instance, a different verse is sung which emphasizes the role of the artist in remembering the sacrificial life of the soldier:

The poets since the war began have written lots of things
About our gallant soldier lads which no one ever sings.
Although their words are very good, the lilt they seem to miss.
For some we like the tricky song, the song that goes like this:
Here we are, here we are, here we are again… (74)

13The irony and ambiguity of this passage underlines the complexity of war. The gallant boys are dying and artists are responding to their deaths, even as the soldiers respond to the deaths of one another on the front and in the hospital beds. But the singers and the poets prefer to focus on the brotherhood of the war experience, (the "Pat and Mac and Tommy and Jack and Joe" experience), as emphasized by the words, "here we are again" and the social action of working together for a common cause ("When there’s trouble brewing, / When there’s something doing, / Are we downhearted…? / No!"). Although the stage directions tell us that the men join in gradually, singing "slowly, quietly," the song grows in tempo and intensity until they all sing together: "We’re fit an’well and feeling as right as rain. Nevermind the weather, now we’re altogether. ‘Allo. ‘Allo. Here we are again…" The soldiers then laugh and cry together "with relief" (74). The conversation that follows is an echo of the opening of the play in which the men describe some of the regional "favorites" (a Labatt’s beer, a Lowney’s candy bar, Saskatoon berries, salt beef) that reinforce the commonality of the Canadian experience. Somehow the action of singing, of joining together in a response to trauma, fills them with some kind of hope or relief, even if it is for the short term.

14The act of singing appears to have brought the men some measure of healing in the face of trauma; however, when it becomes clear that Sid has died, silence ensues. His hospital comrades have various responses: Mike turns his back and J.P. "goes somewhere, staring" (75). Will, who has pretended throughout the play that he doesn’t know Sid (an indicator perhaps of Will’s sexual anxiety), props the man’s head in his lap and touches his cheek. Although these actions represent a small number of the various reactions to trauma that soldiers may exhibit, they also present an alternative version of masculinity and mark a break from earlier traditional narratives that emphasize the dutiful stoicism of soldiers.

15Just as Thiessen uses a song to undermine the depiction of battle as a valorous act that turns boys into men, he uses the image of dance through his description of the Vimy Glide. As Berton describes it in his narrative, the "Vimy glide" was a system of "advance behind the creeping barrage" (158); it was a perfectly timed movement across No Man’s Land at a precise pace behind the "curtain of fire" created by the artillery barrage (Thiessen 66). Berton writes, "If the troops moved too quickly they would be killed by their own artillery. If they moved too slowly, they wouldn’t be able to pounce on the German dugouts before the enemy recovered" (Berton 158). The soldiers practiced the movement for weeks in preparation for the strategic battle on Easter morning, 1917 that the Allies hoped would change the course of the war. Although the repetitious practice was wearisome for the troops, it proved to be worthwhile, for the barrage was successful and the soldiers of Division 2 took the Ridge in just four hours. Thiessen suggests the image of dance through his repetition of the phrase "One, two, three, glide" which echoes the precision of a waltz-like step and also demonstrates the orderly, practiced movements of the soldier. Specifically, the word "glide" is repeated throughout the text, in reference to the flight of a bird, the movement of a canoe on a river (22), and the movement of the soldier as he crosses no-man’s land behind the creeping barrage. Describing the technique, Sid tells Will:

...don’t get ahead of yourself. Exactly one hundred yards every three minutes.
WILL: Yes, Cap’n!
SID: One, two, three, glide. No, No, NO!
WILL: Sir!?
SID: You ever paddle a canoe back home?
WILL: Who hasn’t, sir?
SID: Know how you navigate a river?
WILL: Yes, sir.
SID: Well, then you know what I’m talking about. It’s a glide. (43)

16Thiessen’s comparison of the movement to positive images from Will’s memories of home—a bird’s flight, a peaceful exploration of the landscape where "everywhere you look, you see the story of the place: The trees. / The rocks. / The water…" (22)—suggest our tendency to associate dance with pleasure and happy memories. However, as the play unfolds, these positive associations with landscape and memory are traumatically altered.

  • 8 According to Thiessen's "Historical Notes," 3,589 men died at Vimy Ridge and over 10,600 casualties (...)

17The phrase, "one, two, three, glide" recurs in various forms, which emphasizes the dance-like quality of the movement, as well as the boredom and frustration of practice. "Gone over it and over it," laments Mike. "So many times," repeats Sid. "Boring," complains Will. "One, two, three, glide…damn!" (46). A breakthrough comes, however, in the moment when Will masters the technique. "I GOT IT, I GOT IT!" he cries (Vimy 47), with enthusiasm reminiscent of Berton’s description of the sense of confidence that the grueling training provided to the troops (Berton 159). Ironically, it is this deadly dance that will lead thousands of soldiers to their deaths as they glide over the treacherous terrain of No Man’s Land, or engage in actions that will change them—both physically and mentally—forever.8

18As Will describes his experience during the creeping barrage, he recalls that he felt as if he was gliding, "Like I’m, I’m paddling a great river" (70). But when he gets through to the German line, a young German soldier jumps out at him. Will waits...then, in an echo of the glide he says: "One. Two. Three..." He waits a moment more, then he stabs the German soldier with his bayonet, "straight through the heart" (70). Next, Will is shot, and although his adaptation of the Vimy Glide has saved him, the cost is staggering. The peaceful domestic image of the Vimy Glide as similar to gliding down a river in a canoe or gliding across a dance floor is disrupted by an image of violence and death. Will is traumatized, upset by his memory of the staring corpse, the violent death "ripping at [his] insides" (71) and Will is alone, alone with his thoughts, his fears and the horrible memories. The phrase "One, two, three, glide" is stuck in his memory, along with his love for the glide of the canoe down the river, and perversely, along with the sorrow, violence, noise and trauma of the battle. Thiessen has effectively depicted the irony of the soldier’s "glide" across the muddy, snowy, broken ground, marred by craters filled with filthy water and the taint of death. This is a No-Man’s land that no man would logically want to cross: the curtain of fire ahead, the deafening wail of artillery, and the threat of guns and the ghosts of dead men always in the edges of the scenes.

  • 9 Anne Nothof, in "A Borderless Battlefield," describes the set design which included "hundreds of po (...)

19Thiessen’s images of landscape (as depicted in the original production), including the peat covered floor and the scarred tree that looms over the set (an ominous suggestion of crucifixion, sacrifice and the Vimy Memorial whose lines it suggests), are as much a part of the play as the stories and the characters.9 From the opening scene in which Clare describes the cliffs and the bay of her Nova Scotia home and compares the incoming tide to the war that is "biting the land, chewing the earth, smacking her lips on the muddy soil" (3), Thiessen is intent on making connections between the landscapes of home and the battleground of Vimy. Through flashbacks the characters recall familiar geography and sites, often in terms of the "story of the place." Will describes the trees and rocks of Barron Canyon; Mike remembers Chief Mountain and the Northern Lights; Clare and Laurie look back fondly to the Bay of Fundy. Moreover, even as they begin to prepare for the Battle of Vimy, the men’s conversation is marked by comparisons to the landscape of home. They compare Vimy Ridge to an island, to a bank on the Milk River, and to the prairie (37). These comparisons ultimately become subverted when the men actually engage in the battle. Their monologues at the end of the play describe the terror of No Man’s Land. Mike recalls the "holes filled with mud, bodies, rats" (67). Using the language of the Glide, Sid remembers the way the Highlanders ran up the Ridge, "scrambl[ing] over the sea of mud like it was smooth sailing" (72). Thiessen’s interest in connecting the landscape of the battle with that of home and memory, and then trauma, can best be seen in Mike’s monologue. He describes the similarities of the explosions to the Northern Lights: "The sky. Red. From the shrap exploding in the air. White from the flares. Green from the gas. Just like, just like…Oh Bert…I failed you brother. Nothin’ brave about this" (67). Mike’s traumatic battle experience is not a glorious sacrifice—rather, it is, for him, a painful reminder of all he hoped to do with his brother, Bert, but could not. Through these scenes, based on the accounts of soldiers, Thiessen remembers, but also "search[es] for resolutions" so that he may "find a little peace" (v).

20In the final scene, suggestions of valour and victorious celebration are notably absent; a mood of sadness and shame is reinforced as the "tired" and "stoic" Clare announces "Mail call" (75). The men receive various pieces of mail that should represent happiness, but instead become artifacts of sadness and memory: Mikes’ medal of courage, J.P.’s discharge papers, Will’s postcard from Sid, Claire’s love letter from Laurie. Each one is faced with loss as they open their mail: Mike’s loss of his brother Bert, J.P.’s loss of his friend Claude and his guilt over his unexpected involvement in Claude’s execution, Will’s loss of Sid as a friend and potential lover, Clare’s loss of Laurie and their future together. Any celebration over the victory at Vimy is forgotten in the wake of devastating grief. There is no music, and definitely no dancing.

21In the closing scene of Vimy, Clare speaks to the ghost of her lover, Laurie. She speaks to him of home, of The Five Islands, of the Bay of Fundy, of the sea and the pines and the cliffs that form the foundation of her memories of home. And she wants to be there with him: "Us. There. Together," she says [...] "Let’s go home" (77). But the audience knows that Laurie is only a ghost, and as he and the other men vanish from the stage, only Clare is visible, engulfed in the noise created by the thundering of the guns. The war is not over, the guns remind us. And the shock that the soldiers have experienced is "stuck," just as Laurie had described to Clare. Foreshadowing the traumatic effects of the battle’s violence, Laurie warns: "You’re getting all the…mess what’s inside me now. And it ain’t never going to leave, Clare. Never." (65). Thiessen closes his narrative with a powerful image of the damage caused by war. This is not a play about victory or valour, but about the men and women who sacrificed their lives, their bodies, minds and emotions, for the sake of their country. As an artist, Thiessen asks us to consider these lives in the context of the landscapes of their homes and of the battlefield, as they occur in their memories and in the traumatic present. He also reminds us that when the war is over, music and dance are no longer the same. The repercussions of trauma reverberate through the lives of the men, of their loved ones and their communities. Their memories become as much a part of their current lives as the details of the present. In this way, Thiessen prompts us to consider carefully the impact of war, and reminds us that we must also remember the lives of those who gave them in sacrifice. As Canadians, we are often asked to remember; "lest we forget" the sacrifices given. However, through the intersections of landscape, art, and memory, Thiessen also asks us to rethink our understanding of the events of WWI and the Battle of Vimy Ridge by exploring the possible truths and historic fictions that comprise our understanding of history.

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Berton, Pierre, Vimy, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1986.

Clarke, Eva Marie, "Trench mind: Citadel’s Vimy gets inside the minds of Canadian WWI soldiers," Edmonton Vue Weekly, 24 October 2007,
<>, visited February 2015.

Filewod, Alan, "‘The Richest Patriotic Color’: Playing the Great War", Canada and the Theatres of War, A Symposium of the UBC Department of Theatre and Film, Frederic Wood Theatre, Vancouver, B.C., 19 Nov. 2008.

Gordon, Neta, Catching the Torch: Contemporary Canadian Literary Responses to World War I, Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier UP, 2014.

Grace, Sherrill, Landscapes of War and Memory: The Two World Wars in Canadian Literature and the Arts, 1977-2007, Edmonton: U of A Press, 2014.

-----, On the Art of Being Canadian, Vancouver: UBC Press, 2009.

Löschnigg, Martin, "‘Like dying on a stage’: Theatricality and Remembrance in Anglo-Canadian Drama on the First World War", The Great War in Post-memory Literature and Film, Löschnigg, Martin, Marzena Sokoŧowska-Paryż eds., Berlin: de Gruyter Press, 2014, 153-169.

Nicholls, L, "Vimy Leads Theatre Nominees", Edmonton Journal, 3 June 2008,, visited 11 December 2014.

Nothof, Anne, "A Borderless Battlefield: The Efficacy of Memory in Vern Thiessen’s Vimy", AUSpace, 2010, 14 September 2010,
<> (Also presented as a paper for the Canadian Association of Theatre Research Conference at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of British Columbia, May 31-June 3, 2008).

Taber, Jane, "Placement of ‘Mother Canada’ statue has Cape Bretoners on war footing", The Globe and Mail, 7 March 2014, visited 11 December 2014.

Thiessen, Vern, Vimy, 1st ed, Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2008.

Wyile, Herb, Speaking in the Past Tense: Canadian Novelists on Writing Historical Fiction, Waterloo, On: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2007.

-----, Speculative Fictions: Contemporary Canadian Novelists and the Writing of History, Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2002.

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1 Taber, "Placement of 'Mother Canada' statue has Cape Bretoners on war footing," <>December 11, 2014.

2 Clark,"Trench mind: Citadel's Vimy gets inside the head of WWI Canadian soldiers," <>, visited February 27, 2015.

3 Clark, "Trench mind," para 4.

4 Herb Wyile expands on this notion in Speaking in the Past Tense. He states that his main concern is to look at the work of contemporary writers which "engages in a dialogue with the public historical record and identifiable historical figures but has also started to push the boundaries of that definition and of the definition of history," Wyile 2002, 4. Again, Thiessen's work appears to fit in this category.

5 Clark, "Trench mind," para 6.

6 Nicholls, "Vimy Leads Theatre Nominees," <>, visited December 11, 2014.

7 Clark, "Trench mind," para 5.

8 According to Thiessen's "Historical Notes," 3,589 men died at Vimy Ridge and over 10,600 casualties occurred, vi.

9 Anne Nothof, in "A Borderless Battlefield," describes the set design which included "hundreds of pounds of peat" and "the blasted tree" that "testified to the possibilities for destruction and growth—the birth of a 'terrible beauty' amidst the horror of war," (Nothof 8). My analysis of this image draws inevitable links to the notion of sacrificial duty as it relates to the Christian world-view that was commonly accepted in the early 1900's in Canada. This same link can be seen in interesting ways in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

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Bibliographical reference

Jan Lermitte, Doing the Vimy Glide: Intersections of Landscape, Art, and Memory in Vern Thiessen’s VimyCaliban, 53 | 2015, 121-133.

Electronic reference

Jan Lermitte, Doing the Vimy Glide: Intersections of Landscape, Art, and Memory in Vern Thiessen’s VimyCaliban [Online], 53 | 2015, Online since 24 August 2015, connection on 05 October 2022. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Jan Lermitte

University of British Columbia, Writing Instructor; Trinity Western University, Literature Instructor.

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Creative Commons - Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International - CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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