Source Use in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Vimy Ridge Centennial Address

April 9th, 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, a turning point for the
Allies during World War I and a defining moment for Canada as a nation. When delivering an
address at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France on the day of the anniversary, Prime
Minister Justin Trudeau distinguished himself among other dignitaries by developing a profound
connection with his audience through his primary source use. Recognizing the difficulty that his
audience would have with grasping the true magnitude of statistical figures pertaining to the
Battle, and the inherent power of personal stories to emotionally move individuals, Trudeau
reconstructed the life of a fallen soldier by citing an excerpt from a handwritten letter to build a
rapport with the many attendees. The targeted and concise use of an excerpt whose content is
unrelated to the war and rather mundane in nature serves to facilitate the audience empathizing
with the plight of fallen soldiers and understanding their ultimate sacrifice. In so doing, Trudeau
transcended the temporal barrier between the Canadian citizens in the audience and those
Canadians who fought at Vimy Ridge.

— Nicholas Johnson ’20

Vimy Ridge Centennial Address Excerpt:

Seven thousand and four Canadians were wounded in the battle that began
here, 100 years ago today. Three thousand, five hundred and ninety-eight
Canadians died.
This, from a population, in 1917, of just eight million.
Think of it, for a moment. The enormity of the price they paid.
These were, for the most part, young men in their late teens and early
twenties. Not professional soldiers. But they were superbly trained. And
supported by months of painstaking preparation.
Yet for all that, they still required courage – to a degree that is hard to
They weren’t impervious to fear, these men. They were human. Homesick,
tired, footsore and cold.
Yet still, they advanced. Uphill, through mud. Under fire. They advanced,
fighting like lions, moving just behind a devastating allied artillery barrage.
And they did not stop. They did not stop, until they had victory.
There were strategic objectives. Vimy is high ground. It had been
transformed into a fortress.

But if you read the accounts of the men who fought here, you’ll find they
focused on other things.
They wrote to loved ones. They thanked them for parcels and letters. They
asked about brothers and sisters. And they wrote about their fellow soldiers
– those who’d fallen. Those still fighting.
Typical Canadians, they talked about the weather.
“The sun has been shining a couple times this last week,” reads a letter from
William Henry Bell, dated April 7th, 1917. “The sun is a kind of stranger
here. Say, that cake you sent was sure fine.”
William Bell died at Vimy, April 10th, 1917. He was twenty.

–Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Maclean’s, “The Prime Minister’s Vimy Ridge centennial address: Full Text,”
Maclean’s, April 9, 2017,
ministers-statement- at-the- vimy-full- text/.