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History World War I

The Vimy Trap

or, How We Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Great War

by (author) Ian McKay & Jamie Swift

Between the Lines
Initial publish date
Mar 2017
World War I, Canada, Nationalism, 20th Century
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Mar 2017
    List Price
    $28.99 USD
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2016
    List Price
  • Downloadable audio file

    Publish Date
    Dec 2021
    List Price

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The story of the bloody 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge is, according to many of today’s tellings, a heroic founding moment for Canada. This noble, birth-of-a-nation narrative is regularly applied to the Great War in general. Yet this mythical tale is rather new. “Vimyism”— today’s official story of glorious, martial patriotism—contrasts sharply with the complex ways in which veterans, artists, clerics, and even politicians who had supported the war interpreted its meaning over the decades.

Was the Great War a futile imperial debacle? A proud, nation-building milestone? Contending Great War memories have helped to shape how later wars were imagined. The Vimy Trap provides a powerful probe of commemoration cultures. This subtle, fast-paced work of public history—combining scholarly insight with sharp-eyed journalism, and based on primary sources and school textbooks, battlefield visits and war art—explains both how and why peace and war remain contested terrain in ever-changing landscapes of Canadian memory.

About the authors

IAN McKAY is a Halifax historian. He has an M.A. in history from the University of Warrick in England, and a PhD from Dalhousie University. He is the author of the seminal study The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentienth-Century Nova Scotia (1994).

Ian McKay's profile page

Kingston writer Jamie Swift is the author of a dozen books, most recently The Vimy Trap, or How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War (with Ian McKay), finalist for the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing and the Canadian Historical Association Prize for the Best Scholarly Book in Canadian History. He has held the Michener Foundation fellowship for public service journalism and was a longtime documentary producer for CBC-Radio’s “Ideas.” In addition to the writing life, he is a social justice advocate. He taught “Critical Perspectives on Business” at the Smith School of Business, Queen’s University for many years.

Jamie Swift's profile page


  • Short-listed, Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing
  • Short-listed, The Canadian Historical Association Best Scholarly Book in Canadian History Prize

Editorial Reviews

Well-written and researched, and supplemented by a wide variety of primary and secondary sources, the authors present clear and valid arguments.

<p><em>Oral History Forum</em></p>

Complicated arguments are presented throughout with nuance and clarity.

<em>Winnipeg Free Press</em>

The Vimy Trap is openly (and refreshingly) polemical, well researched, and lucid in its cultural criticism and is likely to disrupt the martial celebrations of Vimy’s 100th anniversary.

<em>Canadian Historical Review</em>

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