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2014-03-06 at NOON

Historical voyage

By Jamie Smith,
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Some local high school students are leaving the classroom and heading toward some of the most famous battlefields in Europe.

More than 40 students from St. Ignatius and St. Pat's are spending their March Break visiting Ypres, Juno Beach, Dieppe and Vimy Ridge, places that until now they've only read about in their history textbooks.

St. Pat's history teacher David Battistel said it's a great opportunity to see history up close from Canadian cemeteries to European architecture.

"But also they're able to honour the sacrifices made by soldiers," he said Thursday morning before they flew out of Thunder Bay.

"Just allowing the kids to see and experience something they've never seen before."

The 10-day trip, called Canada's Battlefields Tour, coincides with the 100 anniversary of the start of the First World War and 75 th for the Second World War. Battistel said when he took students to Europe two years ago to commemorate Vimy Ridge, he could see the impact the trip made on them. A lot of the soldiers who gave up their lives weren't much older than the students on the trip.

"Watching high school students in tears as they walked around and looked at the headstones, it's remarkable to see that and remarkable that they're this interested in history to want to do this," he said.

Sarah Ficek, a 17-year-old Grade 11 student, said part of the reason she and her friends wanted to make the trek is because they're all history nerds after seeing Battistel's passion for the subject. It's also partly to honour the soldiers there.

"I just find it so fascinating how so many people gave up their lives," she said.

It's also about seeing Paris, something she's always wanted to do after hearing stories from her grandmother.

Grade 10 student Kellan Steudle, 15, is also excited about seeing Paris after his father went there. But like Ficek, he'd like to honour those who gave up their lives.

"We can do a lot now which we probably couldn't do if they didn't go over there so it's important," he said.

The students paid their own way for the trip. Most fundraised or picked up jobs in order to make the trek.

"It's fantastic to see that kids are willing to do this," Battistel said.

The students and their six teacher chaperones return March 16.


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