Photo: Col. Mark Hutchings
Following a 10-day battle, the Canadian soldiers won after defeating 21 counterattacks
The Canadians suffered more than 9,000 casualties during the battle for Hill 70
6 Victoria crosses were awarded during this battle
1,877 maple leaves etched into the walkways in the Memorial Park to signify the number of Canadians who died in the battle
The obelisk top stands at 70 meters above sea level
They were young men, many little more than boys, drawn from cities, towns, farms and fishing villages across Canada. They fought with courage and much suffering under terrible conditions. A century later a grateful nation has erected a monument to mark their August 1917 battle to take and hold a key high ground in occupied France that would ultimately help the allies win the war.
The infamous Hill 70, near the city of Lens, was taken by the Canadian Corps to relieve pressure on the allied troops at Passchendaele. Demonstrating exceptional bravery and battlefield strategy, the Canadians not only took the hill, but also repelled no fewer than 21 German attempts to retake it over a four-day period. So determined to regain the hill from the stubborn Canadians, the Germans depleted their battle capabilities and thus emerged a tipping point in the war that led to the Allies’ ultimate victory in November of the following year.
Canada’s victory at Hill 70, virtually forgotten for many years, came with a terrible price. There were more than 9,000 Canadian casualties during the battle and 1,877 soldiers died, tragic losses that forever altered the lives of family, friends and entire communities.
It was in recognition of this important battle that a group of patriotic Canadians, under the patronage of then Canadian Governor General David Johnston, came together in 2012 to launch a fundraising campaign to erect a monument and memorial park to those Canadians who made and endured such sacrifice.
The Battle of Hill 70 Memorial Park opened to the public in August 2017, exactly 100 years after the original battle. The most dramatic feature of the park is an obelisk that signifies the enduring victory of the Canadian soldiers who fought there. The obelisk is adorned with the sword of sacrifice and inscribed simply, “Canada, 1917.” The park is built at the demarcation point where the Canadians began their advance towards Hill 70.
In addition to the obelisk there is also a welcome centre at the site and an amphitheatre which serves as a gathering place for visitors and tour groups. The amphitheatre is named after Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie who commanded the Canadian Corps during the 1917 battle. The site also features a pathway named after Filip Konowal, VC. Set into a pathway, 1,877 Canadian Maple Leaves, each representing a Canadian soldier who died helping achieve the victory at Hill 70, almost half of whom have no known grave.
“The efforts of the Hill 70 Memorial Foundation have shone a national and international spotlight on the courage and patriotism of thousands of Canadians soldiers who fought at Hill 70 and throughout the First World War,” says Paul C. Genest, Senior Vice-President of Power Corporation. “We must never forget the sacrifice of entire generations of Canadians whose lives were given in the effort to defeat tyranny and oppression. The Hill 70 Monument now stands as a constant and elegant tribute to that sacrifice.”
“We are delighted that a Québec company like Power Corporation has become involved in this project, as the Province of Québec itself made a major contribution to the war effort,” declares Mark Hutchings, Chairman of the Hill 70 Memorial board of directors. “As part of the Canadian Corps, over 24 regiments of volunteer soldiers from Québec fought with valour at the Battle of Hill 70, during which many of their members lost their lives.