After Waiting Two Years, CDS Student Realizes Dream of Visiting Vimy Ridge

Kim Sillcox
When Country Day School student Nicole Damianidis ’22 received the news in Grade 10 that she was a recipient of the 2020 Beaverbrook Vimy Prize, no one would have believed she would have to wait two years to realize her dream. As one of only 17 Canadian students to receive this honour, Nicole is finally traveling to Belgium and France in August to participate in this immersive educational program.
"I was ecstatic to hear that I had been accepted into the program,” recalls Nicole. “At the time I was so honoured (and still am) to be selected as history is something I am passionate about, and I am certain this experience will contribute to my knowledge and perspective.”

In order to qualify, Nicole wrote a comprehensive essay, did an artistic review, submitted a visual as well as a written application, and was interviewed extensively. CDS has only had one other winner of the Vimy Prize, Reid Dobell ’12 in 2009, as well as a winner of their essay contest, Alia Brown ’17. 

Turn the hands of time ahead two years to June 2022, and Nicole cannot wait to embark on her upcoming journey. She has been meeting once a month with the other 16 students on Google classroom to become acquainted in advance and devise a plan for researching and honouring a soldier from each student’s hometown. Nicole has selected Private George Clelland Caldwell from Richmond Hill, Ont., who died October 1, 1916 at the age of 21. She plans to locate Private Caldwell’s grave reference when she visits the Vimy Ridge Memorial this summer.

“Nicole’s accomplishment is a special one,” said her proud history teacher, Mr. Tony Young. “Only a limited number of students from a large number of applicants are chosen from across Canada. It is a potentially life-changing experience, and Nicole is a perfect candidate, as she truly cares about world affairs and the plight of the fallen soldiers of Canada’s past.”

This spring, Mr. Young asked Nicole if she would reach out to the four students who applied for the Beaverbrook Prize this year to offer her assistance. She was more than happy to do so as she is hopeful that other CDS students will want to pursue this extraordinary educational opportunity.

“I really look forward to applying what I’ve learned in the classroom firsthand on this trip. What an incredible opportunity to help elevate my understanding of WW1 and WW2 firsthand.”

One of the goals of the Grade 10 History course at CDS has always been to educate the students on World War history in engaging ways. Serving as inspiration to Nicole and many other CDS students, Mr. Downer, Ms. Moonan and Mr. Young organize a trench simulation for Grade 10s in the first part of the year. 

In the second part of the year, these teachers organized virtual and phone classroom visits with four veterans of World War II. These veterans included Jack Rhind, a soldier in the battle of Monte Cassino and a liberator of the Netherlands, Julia Parsons, who was a codebreaker for the American forces, Jim Parks,  a survivor and hero of the D-Day invasion, and Jack Holder, a Pearl Harbor survivor and World War II aviator.

“Each veteran had their own unique, amazing story, but what they had in common was a fierce compassion for doing what they needed to do and a relentless desire to get the job done,” explains Mr. Young. “They are truly four very special people. This would not have been possible without the knowledge and support of Grade 11 student Jaxon Hekkenberg, who has made it his life’s mission to communicate with as many World War II veterans as possible while still possible.”

Inspired by the heroic victory of the Canadian Forces at Vimy Ridge, The Vimy Foundation established this prestigious scholarship for high school students in 2006, and has since sent more than 180 15-to-17-year old students to Europe to learn about our history during the First and Second World War.

Land Acknowledgment

CDS wishes to recognize and acknowledge the land on which the school operates. For thousands of years, these have been the traditional lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. We also recognize the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat, Anishinaabe and the Haudenosaunee peoples who also shared this land.  CDS respects the relationship with these lands and recognizes that our connection can be strengthened by our continued relationship with all First Nations, by acknowledging our shared responsibility to respect and care for these lands and waters for future generations.

School Information

13415 Dufferin Street King, Ontario L7B 1K5 
(905) 833-1220

Founded in 1972, The Country Day School is a co-educational private school offering programs in JK-12 and located on 100 acres north of Toronto in King.