Vimy Ridge – April 17, 1917


Canadian Attack under heavy shelling at Vimy Ridge, France


2017 marks two defining moments in the history of Canada.  It is the 150th anniversary of Canada’s birth as a self governing nation.  It also marks the 100th anniversary of a famous World War I battle in which Canada fought as a unified force on the world stage.

The German forces occupied a 7 kilometer ridge that gave them a distinct advantage over the combined allied forces.  In the weeks and months leading up to April 9th, France had over 100,000 casualties while trying to capture the ridge.   Meanwhile Canadian forces were going through detailed training exercises and preparing the field for battle.  Prior to this, Canada’s regiments were assigned to various allied forces.  This was the first time they  were under common command.

At 5:30 AM, under protective fire from British and Canadian artillery, 15,000 Canadian troops charged overtaking Germans in the front line trenches. They continued up the ridge and, in small and isolated groups, captured machine gun nests along the ridge and eventually captured the main hill.  The fighting would continue through to April 12th and resulted in a victory which marked a turning point in the fortunes of the Allied Forces.

It might be described as a bittersweet victory.  With 3,598 deaths and over 7,000 wounded, it was a costly victory for a young nation of only 7 million people. Although greatly reduced in numbers, Canadians went on the participate in other battles during 1917.

Few communities in Canada were untouched by grief.   To date, three men from North Colchester and part of the Earltown Gaeldacth  were known to have perished on this battlefield.

Archie John MacKay was born at The Falls in 1885.  He was a son of  William G.A. MacKay “Achany”  and Martha Hayman, merchants at the cross roads.   He was one of seven children.  His brother Roach lived in Springhill, a brother Bill, (Alberta Bill MacKay), lived in Waldegrave, and the remainder in Fairview, Alberta.  Archie died in the April 9th assault.

Donald Ferguson was born ca. 1879 at Ferguson Crossing, Waugh River.  His parents were Robert Ferguson and Maria MacKay.  His father was born and brought up near Knox Church in Earltown.  His mother’s father, of the Caribou MacKays,  came from the Berrichan.  Donald died in combat on April 10th.

Arthur MacKay Ross was born at Waldegrave, a son of Duncan Ross and Johanna MacKay.  The Ross family were originally from Gulf Shore, Cumberland County, and Mrs. Ross was a descendant of the both the Tailor and Black MacKays.  Arthur died in the April 9th assault.  Prior to going overseas, he was married to Nettie Hynds and left a young son Arthur.  Arthur’s brother,  William G. Ross, later of Glenholme, served in both World War I and World War II.

There may be others from the area of which we are not aware but would be most grateful to learn about their service.


Vimy Memorial at Vimy Ridge, a site given to Canada by France to

commemorate the battle.



World War I Casualties – Wikipedia

Wilson, Margaret,   The Descendants of Catherine Ferguson, unpublished

Files of Janet Ruby MacKay  “Tailor”










3 comments on “Vimy Ridge – April 17, 1917

  1. John Ferguson says:

    Hello Glen. I would like to add Daniel George Ferguson, 907450, to you list of Earltown and area boys who fell at Vimy Ridge. Daniel died on April 10, 1917. He was a member of the 102 Battalion and just been recently promoted to Corporal. He was the son of Robert Ferguson and Maria MacKay born in Waughs River in 1880. He was living in Gravelboroug Saskatchewan when he joined upand was not married.

    • GMMatheson says:

      Thank you John. Yes, Donald was the original name and he was named for his grandfather. In the late 1800’s, Dan became the familiar form of Donald in the same manner that “Don” is today. I suspect it was a result of pronunciation of Don with a Gaelic accent. In time Dan was assumed to be short for Daniel and the people affected didn’t seem to mind. There are many instances of this in Nova Scotia.
      I was also interested to learn that the family had moved to Upper River John Road, (specifically Ferguson’s Crossing), by the time Dan was born.
      I will update the post with your information in the near future. Thank you.

  2. John Ferguson says:

    I guess the above Donald Ferguson is really the Daniel I am talking about.

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