As Remembrance Day approaches, Torontonian Racheal McCaig is preparing to exhibit some of her photographs at the Vimy Ridge 100th anniversary celebrations in France next April. Ms. McCaig, who took some of the photos during a trip to Vimy with her children, will be the only artist to represent Canada at the commemoration.
Tell me about how you heard you were chosen.
I received a call [from the mayor of Givenchy-en-Gohelle, where Vimy is] and then e-mails and then I actually flew to France to meet with the mayor. What had happened was he had been in a strategic planning with his team, talking about the anniversary and the commemorations and what they wanted. He specifically wanted an artistic presence, and he also specifically wanted a Canadian presence. There was somebody affiliated with the Alliance Française who was there and said, "Well, actually, it just so happens that I had seen an image that this Canadian photographer had done from Vimy" and he pulled up a file, he showed it to the mayor and the mayor said, "That's it, that's exactly what I want."
Tell me about when you visited Vimy and took that photo.
I was actually on a trip to Paris with my children. Vimy, to us, is something that we had always heard about, we always knew about. I mean, you see it on the back of our $20 bill. But it wasn't necessarily anything that we really understood until we actually got there. And that day, it happened to be pouring rain. We went through the tunnels and we went through all the trenches. They were actually worried that everything was going to be rained out, which was even better because it gave us such a vibrant sense of history and what all those soldiers must have been doing down in those tunnels. When we walked out and went up to the actual monument itself, it was just a fluke – the skies cleared, the sun came out just at the moment we turned the corner and looked at the monument. And me being a photojournalist, I always have a camera with me. And all three of us, my two children and I, just stopped dead and our jaws were literally dropped. It was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen in my life. And so, of course, you have to photograph it.
Now that you've become involved in this project and taken these photos, what does the Vimy monument mean to you?
Certainly more than anything, Vimy itself is the coming of age of Canada. It's when we really asserted ourselves as a proper nation on the world stage and it's something I'm very, very proud of. I think the other thing is that, what I say to my children is, whether you agree or disagree with why [they] fought, the reason that they fought is why we are allowed to have our opinions and have our freedom. So from my perspective, I'm incredibly grateful.
This interview has been condensed and edited.