Opinion: What's in a name? Legacies of heroism and duty in names of Vancouver firms
Lyall Knott | Vancouver Sun | Published on: April 10, 2017 | Last Updated: April 10, 2017 1:00 AM PDT
This month marks 100 years since Canadian troops climbed out of their muddy Great War trenches to take Vimy Ridge, a major turning point in the First World War, and a milestone for Canada as a country.
While every Canadian can celebrate the heroism and determination of those young Canadian troops, the legacy of Vimy Ridge is particularly poignant for local firms like ours whose founders fought there and survived to come home to help build a growing B.C.
Today, as a newly minted roster of law-school graduates begin their careers at Clark Wilson, we’ll be sure to tell them about two other young lawyers who did their duty on a foreign battlefield, and returned to build and brand the firm they’re joining.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge marked the first time that all four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought together as one formation, with soldiers from every part of Canada fighting side-by-side. The Canadian victory, achieved at a high human cost and after years of failure by other forces, has come to mark Canada’s arrival on the international stage with its own independent identity.
When the Canadian Expeditionary Force was mobilized in 1915 as part of British efforts to replace mounting casualties and strengthen British-led forces in Europe, British Columbians were quick to volunteer. To prepare for combat in Europe, the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada underwent basic training at Hastings Park.
Marching from their training camp in April 1915, they were cheered on by more than 30,000 people, at a time when Vancouver’s population was just over 100,000. Led by then-Lt.-Col. Arthur Clark, a young 29-year-old Vancouver lawyer who had joined the Highlanders in 1910, the troops boarded trains for Halifax, before sailing to Liverpool, where they joined the 12th Canadian Infantry Brigade, of the 4th Canadian Division.
Within days of their arrival in Belgium, they were sent into action against enemy positions along the Western Front. By the time they were preparing for Vimy Ridge in early April 1917, they had already endured seven months of casualties, death, shelling, miserable weather, mud and disease.
When the attack on Vimy Ridge began, the Canadians advanced quickly, but the fighting lasted four days. When it was over, the Battle of Vimy Ridge had resulted in more than 10,000 casualties, with some 3,500 killed and more than 7,000 wounded.
The Highlanders and Canadian forces would continue to see action until the end of the war in November 1918. Clark would return to Vancouver as a general, and together with his good friend and second-in-command, Brig.-Gen. Alexander Wilson, they would embark on successful law careers, creating the firm of Clark Wilson, now one of B.C.’s oldest law firms with some 80 business and commercial lawyers among its ranks.
Since The War to End All Wars ended in 1918, thousands more Canadian troops have served our nation in conflicts and peacekeeping missions, with many of them making the ultimate sacrifice. Today, no veterans of the Great War remain to remind us of the valour our troops demonstrated at Vimy Ridge. But this year’s anniversary of that victory is also a fitting chance to honour the contributions of all the veterans who are no longer with us by thanking today’s vets and active service members.
Additionally, at firms like ours, and many others here in Vancouver and across B.C. that carry the names of some of those brave men who fought for King and country 100 years ago, remembering Vimy Ridge isn’t just about the past. It’s also about the incredible future they endowed to the generations who have passed through the firms they created on their return from France all those years ago.
Lyall Knott is a partner at Clark Wilson, the Vancouver law firm founded by generals and lifelong friends Arthur Clark and Alexander Wilson. He is also a former honorary captain of the Canadian Fleet Pacific, Royal Canadian Navy.