Chamber pays tribute to Vimy Ridge and marine shipping’s role in First World War

On the eve of the commemoration at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial April 9 in France, the Chamber of Marine Commerce paid tribute to the many Canadians who bravely fought at the Battle of Vimy Ridge and aided in the war effort.

Bruce R. Burrows, President of the Chamber of Marine Commerce and a board director of the Vimy Foundation, said: “On this important 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, this is an opportunity to remember the sacrifices made in the name of peace and to educate our youth on the many historical contributions from all corners of Canadian society, including our marine shipping industry that provided ships to transport supplies, equipment and soldiers during the war.”

Burrows added: “Canada’s First World War legacy is best symbolized with the victory at Vimy Ridge where Canada first stepped onto the world stage. This remains a key part of our collective understanding as a country because many of today’s core Canadian values were contributing factors to the battle’s success, including leadership and innovation—things exhibited by the marine sector today in Great Lakes/St. Lawrence shipping, which has been undergoing extensive reinvestment in new technology.”

Many different companies contributed their Great Lakes ships and manpower to cross the Atlantic to aid the cause of the Allied Forces. Most of the Great Lakes ships were involved in coastal trading overseas, but some were also called upon for transatlantic service and the industry worked collaboratively for a common cause.

For example, Canada Steamship Lines, which still exists today as a division of the CSL Group, was one of those companies that responded to the need.

Some of CSL’s carriers could sail right through the small, existing locks of the Third Welland Canal and the St. Lawrence Seaway. As the war progressed, one CSL ship and some larger American upper lakes freighters were cut in two, bulk-headed and towed to the St. Lawrence in sections. There the parts were rejoined and they entered the fray.

Twenty-nine CSL ships were taken from their commercial routes along the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes and put into service at the battlefront between 1914 and the war’s end on November 11, 1918. Of those vessels, 14 were sunk by enemy u-boats, gunships or mines and two foundered in storms at sea. At least 75 crew members lost their lives.

Historical photos of Great Lakes ships are available upon request. For more information on the ships click here.

Maritime Editorial