The Great War in Colour — Hundred-Year-Old Photos Get 21st Century Make Over

A colourized photo of Canadian troops return victorious from their assault on Vimy Ridge. A charity committed to preserving the memory of the 1917 battle has retouched dozens of First World War photos. (Image source Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada via the Vimy Foundation)

A colourized photo of Canadian troops returning victorious from the Allied assault on Vimy Ridge. A charity committed to preserving the memory of the 1917 battle has retouched dozens of First World War photos. The results are stunning. (Image source Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada via the Vimy Foundation)

“Campaign organizers hope that the remastered photos, which are bursting with share-worthy vibrance, will get younger generations excited about the past.”

The original photo.

The original photo.

A TORONTO-BASED charity is breathing new life into history with a collection of remastered archival photos from the First World War.

The Vimy Foundation, a not-for-profit group dedicated to raising awareness of Canada’s contribution to the Great War, is digitally colourizing 150 wartime photos acquired from Canada’s national archives. It plans to reveal the enhanced pictures in advance of next year’s 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Dubbed The First World War in Colour Education Program, campaign organizers hope that the remastered photos, which are bursting with share-worthy vibrance, will get younger generations excited about the past.

The images will be part of a travelling exhibit that will crisscross the country over the coming year. They will also appear in a soon-to-be-published commemorative book on Canada’s role in the conflict, which will focus heavily on the fight for Vimy Ridge, an event which many consider to be a major nation-building milestone for the country.

A rifleman from a Canadian Highland regiment. (Image source Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada via the Vimy Foundation)

A rifleman from a Canadian Highland regiment cleans his weapon. (Image source Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada via the Vimy Foundation)

The bloody three-day clash of arms, which could be fairly described as Canada’s Hamburger Hill, was part of the larger 1917 British Arras Offensive.

The Easter battle saw Canadian troops dislodge elements of the German Sixth Army from a stretch of high ground on the left wing of the Allied advance on the Western Front. The operation represented the first time the 170,000-strong Canadian Corps had ever fought together independently as a unit.

While overall the British Arras gambit was a bust, Canada’s Vimy assault was a resounding success, albeit a costly one. More than 10,000 of the attackers were killed or wounded. Several historians characterize Vimy Ridge as a defining moment for Canadian nationhood. Although having gained its independence from the United Kingdom a full 50 years earlier, even in 1917 the former colony considered itself little more of a junior partner in the British Empire. The battle helped dispel those notions.

Yet despite its importance as a national milestone, historians are alarmed that Canadians don’t know much about the significance of the battle. In a poll conducted just two years ago, one-in-five Canadians surveyed had no idea what Vimy Ridge even was. And although 60 percent correctly identified Vimy as a battle, nearly a fifth believed the clash helped liberate millions from Nazi concentration camps in World War Two and one-in-ten thought it was a key moment in the Allied victory over Japan. Surprisingly, 12 percent pegged Vimy Ridge as a 19th Century battle against rebellious tribes on the Canadian prairies.

For more information about the photos, the battle or Canada in World War One, visit the Vimy Foundation website.

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