The Vimy Ridge Gun: Restoring a Part of Canada’s History

Article / November 9, 2017 / Project number: 17-0246

By Drew Neufeld, Manager, Lincoln and Welland Regiment Museum, reprinted with permission.

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St. Catharines, Ontario — The Vimy Ridge Gun is a captured German howitzer. Volunteers and donors from The Lincoln and Welland Regiment Foundation have worked since 2009 to restore this piece of Canadian history, and it will find a permanent indoor home at the new Niagara Military Heritage Centre in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The gun is a 105-millimetre leFH- 16 (Leichter Feld Howitzer, or light field howitzer) produced by Rheinmetall. Introduced in 1916, the 2,447-pound gun could fire 34-pound shells over a distance of roughly 10,000 yards.

On April 9, 1917, the Battle of Vimy Ridge began. During the battle, Canadian forces of the 7th Battalion (1st British Columbia), Canadian Expeditionary Force, captured the gun outside a small farming village called Farbus, a mile south of the village of Vimy. The gun may have been abandoned days earlier, when German gun crews proved unable to move their artillery after their horses were hit by a gas attack. The gun is one of four howitzers and a naval gun captured on April 13. On that day, the Battalion’s intelligence officer, Lieutenant Frederick A. Fraser, reached the rail line east of Farbus and discovered the guns abandoned and in good condition.

By April 14, Canadian troops, unable to move their own artillery forward, had captured several enemy guns and used a number of them to attack the Germans with their own shells. The Vimy Ridge Gun seems to have been one of those guns: Canada’s War Trophy records note that the gun was used by the 23rd Howitzer Battery.

Among these trophies was our Vimy Ridge Gun. It was sent to Niagara, to what was then the Village of Queenston, today part of the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. It’s unclear when the Vimy Ridge Gun arrived in Niagara, but it’s believed to have arrived in 1920 or 1921, being placed in front of the village school in Queenston. In 1926, the village cenotaph was unveiled; the gun was moved there at some point later, where it remained for decades.

Eventually, road improvements near the Cenotaph raised concerns for the gun’s safety. In 1992 the gun’s custodianship was turned over to what is now the Niagara Artillery Association (NAA), which committed to restoring the weapon and finding a new place to display it. However, the Association did not have the resources to do more than sandblast and paint it, and in 1997 the gun was moved to Butler’s Barracks in Niagara-on-the-Lake and placed next to the gun shed.

In 2009, volunteers from The Lincoln and Welland Regiment Museum moved the gun indoors. The Foundation, the NAA and Parks Canada agreed that the Foundation would take over custody of the gun and restore it, with the aim of finding an indoor location to display it.

Over the next few years, volunteers from the regimental museum dedicated their time and effort to restoring the Vimy Ridge Gun. Numerous volunteers from the regimental museum helped restore the gun. The Gun’s final stop is intended to be the Niagara Military Heritage Centre, planned for the old Rifle Range site on Lakeshore Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

At the unveiling of the gun on April 7, 2017, the Foundation announced a fundraising drive for the new Niagara Military Heritage Centre (Home of The Lincoln and Welland Regiment Museum). This facility will not only preserve Niagara’s military heritage, it will interpret the last uninterpreted War of 1812 battlefield in Niagara.

The Centre will be built on a portion of the Rifle Range adjacent to where American soldiers landed on May 25, 1813, during the Battle of Fort George. The property was also the site of Camp Niagara and was an active rifle range used by the Department of Defence.

The Lincoln and Welland Regiment Foundation provides financial support to the Regiment, the Regimental Museum and the Regimental Band as well as undertaking certain projects on its own, such as the publication of the regimental history by Geoffrey Hayes.

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