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Vimy Ridge Centenary: Trudeau, Hollande Honour Those Who Fought WWI Battle

04/09/2017 12:02 EDT | Updated 04/09/2017 12:02 EDT

VIMY RIDGE, France — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the Canadians who died at Vimy Ridge 100 years ago today helped shape Canada into a nation committed to peace.

The prime minister delivered the address at the commemorative ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

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Prince Charles; Prince William; Prince Harry; Sharon Johnston; Governor General David Johnston; French President Francois Hollande; Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; Sophie Gregoire; and Trudeau's son Xavier attend a commemoration ceremony at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial on Sunday.

French President Francois Hollande, members of the Royal Family and Gov. Gen. David Johnston were among the dignitaries at the ceremony in northern France.

Vimy was the most successful part of the Battle of Arras in April 1917, as the Canadians pushed up and captured the strategically important ridge from the Germans.

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Soldiers stand next to boots dropped off the lawn, during a commemoration ceremony at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. The World War I battle was a costly victory for Canada, but one that helped shape the former British colony's national identity.

As many as 25,000 people have come to the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, where hundreds of empty black combat boots have been laid in rows on top of and all around the monument, representing those who died.

Many people in the crowd used umbrellas to guard against the hot sun — different from 100 years ago when soldiers here faced rain and sleet in battle.

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Servicemen wear poppies as they attend a ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge at the Canadian National Memorial in Vimy, France on Sunday. (Photo: Christian Hartmann/Reuters)

"As I see the faces gathered here — veterans, soldiers, caregivers, so many young people — I can't help but feel a torch is being passed,'' Trudeau said in his speech. "One hundred years later, we must say this, together. And we must believe it: Never again.''

Before the prime minister spoke, Johnston told the crowd that the Vimy monument symbolizes the enduring friendship between Canada and France, underscored by the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who helped liberate the country.

"Those spires stand for peace and for freedom,'' Johnston said. "They stand for justice and hope. And they remind us that one cannot exist without the other.''

Earlier in the day, hundreds of citizens from this French city of Arras turned out in a heartfelt display of thanks to Canada and the thousands of Canadian soldiers who fought and died at nearby Vimy Ridge exactly a century ago.

Arras Mayor Frederic Leturque thanked those other countries whose soldiers participated in the battle a century ago: Australians and British, New Zealanders and South Africans.

But he saved a special thanks for Canada, telling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the hundreds of others assembled that the Canadians' actions at Vimy was a turning point for the city — and for all of France.

CORRECTION - April 9: An earlier version of this story mistakenly captioned a photo of Gov. Gen. David Johnston's wife, Sharon Johnston, as Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. The error has been corrected.

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