Op-Ed

Private donors contributed nearly $5 million to build the new Vimy Visitor Education Centre. Photo: CC, Heather Cowper.

Discreetly recognizing donors shouldn’t distract from history

Almost a hundred years ago, Canadian soldiers joined together and fought tirelessly against the Germans at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, leaving Canadian forces triumphant despite losing some 3,600 troops.

Because of the sacrifices those brave men and women made, this military skirmish is now embedded in the minds of many as the pinnacle of Canadian military achievement.

As the 100th anniversary of the conflict approaches, the Vimy Foundation has been working to open up a completely remodelled Vimy Visitor Education Centre. The project, slated to open in April 2017 at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, will cost close to $10 million, a price that will be subsidized thanks to a combination of public and private donors.

As nearly $5 million was donated from private entities, the Vimy Foundation proposed the construction of a tangible show of appreciation.

Jeremy Diamond, executive director of the Vimy Foundation, suggested that donors be recognized via “five named areas” and a “standard donor appreciation panel” to be implemented within the Vimy Visitors Education Centre.

Diamond described these features as “subtle” and “unobtrusive.”

Even so, some are adamantly against the idea of the Vimy Memorial having anything to do with “corporate branding.” Some see Diamond’s commemorative proposal as equating lives lost with money spent, while others see it as capitalizing on Canadian sacrifice to turn a quick profit.

However, I tend to agree with the other side of the debate.

The sanctity of the Vimy Visitors Education Centre will likely remain intact given the modest nature of the commemorative propositions in question. In other words, a “tasteful” plaque is very different than the type of “corporate branding” you might see on a race car.

It’s also worth noting that the Vimy Visitor Education Centre wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the generosity of private donors who, coincidentally, donated the money with no strings attached.

In that way, the kind of branding in question is not malicious. Rather, it’s a solemn nod to the donors for their efforts in enhancing how people learn and come to know about the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Sponsor recognition is also an important step in ensuring further funding for other projects.

And realistically, people have become largely desensitized to the constant bombardment of direct advertisements we see every single day on television, on the street, and online. I find it hard to believe that tourists will go to the Vimy Visitor Education Centre, notice the sponsor commemoration, and then fixate on it in such a way that will mitigate their experience.

Ultimately, people go to Vimy Ridge to learn some history and appreciate the sacrifices that were made. This endeavour won’t be corrupted by a minimal amount of “corporate branding.”