By Katie Jacobs
This year’s Canadian Army Run through the streets of Ottawa marked its 10th anniversary by introducing a new event — the Vimy Challenge — commemorating the 100th anniversary of a World War I engagement in France that’s widely viewed as pivotal to Canadian nationhood: the 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge.
The annual run, which draws thousands of participants paying tribute to Canadian service personnel past and present, was held on Sept. 17. The Vimy Ridge event was introduced in partnership with Veterans Affairs Canada.
Mike Timmermans, the marketing and communications advisor for the Army Run, said the idea to honour those who fought at Vimy Ridge “came up organically” since 2017 also the 150th anniversary of Confederation and the 10th birthday of the run itself.
“I think it’s important to just reflect on what we were as a nation back then,” said Timmermans. “If you forget history, you’re doomed to repeat it.”
Timmermans said the Army Run routes aim to highlight “significant milestones” in Canadian military history. He said that the courses run through “touristy” sites in Ottawa like Parliament Hill, the War Museum and Rideau Hall.
Three courses, the five-kilometre, 10-kilometre and half-marathon, were offered at the event. To complete the Vimy Challenge, competitors needed to run both the five and 10-kilometre distances.
Vimy racers wore a blue bib with a white picture of the memorial in France. They also ran past the National War Memorial and the Mackenzie and Pretoria Bridge.
Racers prepared at Ottawa City Hall before the first wave. The plaza was crowded not only with runners but also a stage, an information desk and military equipment and vehicles.
“It’s going to be once in a lifetime,” said John Bowden, 48. “It’s to (commemorate) what we succeeded at Vimy Ridge in World War I…and that’s a major turning point of my history that I really have great pride in.”
Elizabeth Sleen, 36, ran for her husband, Darren, a member of the Royal Canadian Navy.
“A couple of years ago, he was deployed, and we (my family) had the opportunity to go meet him in France. So we went and then we saw the (Vimy Memorial) on Remembrance Day with our kids,” said Sleen. “This kind of felt like bringing everything into full circle.”
A man playing bagpipes led a group of injured and disabled runners to the front of the starting line at the corner of Elgin Street and Laurier Avenue just after 7 a.m. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared wearing a red Army Run bib and announced that this would be the first time the head of Canada’s government would be participating.
Proceeds will be given to Soldier On and Support Our Troops programs for ill and injured veterans and military families. Timmermans said in an emailed response after the event that the total amount will be announced in December since they are still raising online funds.
Mike Jorgensen, 62, a retired brigadier general from the VAC, said the Army Run does a lot of fundraising to help support veterans and their families. He ran in the first Army Run in 2008 and in another year, walked with his wife to honour a lost friend, Col. Geoff Parker, who was killed in Afghanistan. He said he cannot race this year because he was medically released from the forces.
Jorgensen said the run means a lot to veterans and their families.
“When they see that people still today — 100 years later — recognize, respect and commemorate those sacrifices of those folks … they get a feeling that Canadians do appreciate and do continue to remember and that their service is a special undertaking.”