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Civilian Shoes to Combat Boots


Students will be introduced to the diversity of Canadians who fought in the Battle of Vimy Ridge through a short reading and research activity.


Youth will be expected to:

  • develop a basic understanding of the Canadian efforts at the Battle of Vimy Ridge;
  • develop an awareness of the importance of April 9 and the Battle of Vimy Ridge to Canadians;
  • understand the human cost of war;
  • develop an awareness of the diversity of Canadians who served and some of their experiences; and
  • develop an awareness of the importance of remembering the sacrifices and achievements of those who served and died.

Target Audience

This activity is suitable for ages 12-18.

Sequence of events and anticipated time frame [Variable]

(This activity can be modified to fit available time.)

  • Introduction discussion [10 min]
  • Boots in the Trenches [45 min]
  • Walking in Someone Else’s Boots [40 min]
  • Extension Activities [variable]
    • Visualizing 3,600
    • Missing Man Table Setting



  • Extension Activities
    • Visualizing 3,600
    • Missing Man Table Setting

Introduction discussion [10 minutes]

Canadians from all across the country served in the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917. They had a uniform that was similar to the British uniform, but they had a badge that said CANADA on them. The Canadians were a very diverse group of soldiers coming from many regions of Canada but one thing that most had in common was their boots!

Boots in the Trenches

Share with your students the handout Life in Combat Boots.

Following the reading, talk about how uncomfortable it would have been fighting and running for your life in those wet uncomfortable boots. Show your students the animated video The Trenches. (Please view carefully beforehand as some scenes are graphic and may be upsetting to some viewers). They will be able to see what life was like for the soldiers on the front lines while in combat. Remind them that there are some graphic scenes. Ask them to think about how battered the soldier’s boots would be living through those experiences. You can also ask the students to think about the soldier’s civilian footwear and what the soldier was dreaming of while in battle.

Following the video, talk about the sacrifices that those men made.

Walking in Someone Else's Boots [40 minutes]

There is the saying that you can never really understand a person until you consider things from their point of view and “spend a day in their shoes”.

Make this more literal with your students by inviting them to imagine the lives of some of the approximately 100,000 Canadians who wore combat boots at Vimy Ridge. Some of them returned home to trade them in for civilian shoes, whereas sadly, others never had a chance to return home.

Share with your students the handout Civilian Shoes to Combat Boots to help students understand the diversity of Canadians of the four divisions who served together for the first time in the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the importance of this collective effort to our Canadian identity. Have them read it individually or as a group.

In pairs, students can research the soldiers mentioned in the handout Civilian Shoes to Combat Boots. Each pair can take one of the names and research that person. If they died in the war, their name will appear on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial (CVWM). If the name is not on the CVWM, they may wish to look for the soldier’s attestation papers and service file (there will be a link “digitized service file” if available) on the Library and Archives Personnel Records of the First World War database site. This way, youth can explore the identity of some individuals who served at Vimy, some who died at war, others who returned home, and what life was like in Canada at the time. After the research, they can present their findings to the rest of the group.

Visualizing 3,600

Share with your students the Boots of the Fallen image gallery. The first photo is a replica of the boots worn by Canadian soldiers at Vimy. They will also see the art installation of thousands of modern day combat boots that surrounded the Vimy monument on April 9, 2017, in memory of the Canadian soldiers who died during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Students from Canada and France took part in laying four rows of boots, representing the four divisions of the Canadian Corps that fought for the first time as one formation at Vimy more than a century ago. Take time to explore the images from that day to see the sea of boots. What a powerful way to have a visual symbol to show the human cost of war.

A possible culminating activity is to plan your own “visual” representation of the number 3,600 to symbolize those who died during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Brainstorm with your students on creating a visual and then take a photograph and share it social media. Don’t forget to add #CanadaRemembers. Here are some possible ideas:

  • Organize a mural of 3,600 images of pairs of combat boots in your gymnasium. Each class in the school could be responsible for creating a certain number of boots and take their turn adding their pairs of boots to the mural. 
  • Organize a Remembrance walk of 3,600 steps for your school on or around April 9. Link the idea that the youth are carrying on the steps of the soldiers whose lives were cut short. You may wish to create signs and hold them on your walk.
  • Hold a special Remembrance activity for 1 hour (60 minutes x 60 seconds = 3,600 seconds, 1 second per individual who died at Vimy).
Missing Man Table Setting

Missing Man Table Setting - Extension Activity

You may wish to have a culminating activity where you have a “missing man” luncheon in your class.

At a desk or table in your classroom or cafeteria, set a spot for a “missing man” to represent one of the soldiers who died at Vimy Ridge. Set the desk / table with symbols of Remembrance:

  • a white tablecloth to symbolize peace or the purity of their motives when answering the call to duty
  • a slice of lemon on the bread plate to remind your students of the bitter fate of those who will never return
  • a pinch of salt on the table can symbolize the tears endured by the families of those who have sacrificed all
  • one empty chair with the glass at that seat inverted will remind students of those no longer with us, and the fact that they cannot make a toast
  • a pair of combat boots under the empty chair or any other suitable pair of boots
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