The Battle of Vimy Ridge is synonymous with Canadian fortitude and strength.
It’s considered a significant victory in the First World War that solidified the strength of the Canadian armed forces to the rest of the world. So, when the Canadian folk band, The Fugitives, re-imagined trench songs from the Great War, interest was high.
They called the show Ridge.
Playing the day before Remembrance Day (Friday, Nov. 10) at the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre in Camrose, this is a performance that will also feature a special entry into the theatre by the Camrose Legion along with a special display in the lobby.
Band member Brendan McLeod said Ridge first started out as a solo project. His inspiration first came from the book, Vimy, by Pierre Berton. “Even when I was 12 it was my favourite book.”
The seeds of that inspiration grew some years later after reading the lyrics of old trench songs from the First World War.
“I could see them as human beings because of the lyrics. They were so funny, and touching, and angry, and full of vivid emotions,” explains McLeod.
“I started showing the lyrics to the band members and everyone became interested in the project. We started writing them together as a group and the project morphed in a pretty organic way.”
Keeping the lyrics, the band rearranged the songs into their own folk sound.
The research is a story in itself. McLeod says some of the songs were found in old choir books and some of the old vinyl records were so scratched it was difficult to get a true sense of the music.
This performance in Camrose is more than just a band singing and playing music.
“The whole point of the show is to collapse the distance between ourselves and the past,” says McLeod. “To make sense of those experiences even though they’re far different from ours.
Ridge is a theatre performance, bringing storytelling and live theatre together for a memorable experience reminding us about the sacrifices soldiers made during the First World War.
McLeod says the song adaptation and show creation came naturally to the band who all have experience as performers or theatre work. “Everyone kind of has a has a toe in this theatrical world, so in that way it’s kind of a natural extension.”
From the lighting, the theatrical elements, and to set design, Ridge was a labour of love for The Fugitives.
“The response was pretty visceral because it doesn’t sugarcoat what happened during World War One and it talks with a little more detail than we usually get,” explains McLeod.
Ridge offers the full story of what happened to these soldiers during the battle as well as what happened to them after the war. It’s a show that allows open discussion about those times, something soldiers back in the day avoided.
Because of Ridge, McLeod says people have a new understanding of the situation that their great grandfathers or grandparents went through.
“The battle is one of the most awful, devastating human situations that people have ever been put into, but amongst that, amongst that terror and horror, there’s also these beautiful moments of friendship and insight into the human experience,” he explained.
McLeod adds that many of the soldiers during the First World War were teenagers. Ridge sheds light on their stories and contrasts their experiences to present day.
“It’s trying to make the leap through our imagination to understanding what they went through,” said McLeod.
The Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre is offering a special 20% off discount to all veterans, soldiers, members of the Legion, as well as police and firefighters. Call the box office at provide them the code: RIDGE to take advantage of this discount.