Canada – Special Vimy Pilgrimage Passport 1936

I stumbled over this unusual Canadian passport during research, which I had never heard of before, but the story behind this special passport is of national significance. The Canadian National Vimy Memorial is a place for all Canadians who served their country in battle during W.W.I. 60,000 Canadians were killed. Over 11,000 of those killed died in France, but they have no known grave. The Canadian National Vimy Memorial bears the inscribed names of 11,168 missing Canadians, killed in action in France but whose remains have not been found or identified. Special passport issued by Canada for the 1936 Vimy pilgrimage

Dedication Ceremony, July 1936 – Pilgrims from Canada
The Government of Canada issued around 6000 free-of-charge Special Vimy Passports. These passports were provided for people who wanted to make the pilgrimage to France for the unveiling ceremony of the Vimy Memorial and visits to other sites of Canadian sacrifice. Over 6,000 pilgrims set sail for France on five ocean-going steamships, leaving the port of Montreal in Canada on Jul 16, 1936. The five ships were the S.S. Montrose, S.S. Montcalm, S.S. Antonia, S.S. Ascania, and S.S. DuchessS.S.Bedford. DURING THE PILGRIMAGE VISIT, the S.S. Montrose also carried 300 wreaths to be laid at Canadian sites on the 1914-1918 Western Front battlefields. Over 1,000 Canadians also traveled from England.

The date of the dedication and unveiling ceremony was Jul 26, 1936. There was a massive crowd of approximately 100,000 people present at the ceremony. Many thousands of them were of Canadian, British and French ex-Servicemen. About 8,000 Canadian Veterans had traveled there from Canada. There were family members of the surviving Veterans and their comrades who had been killed, widows and mothers, dignitaries, and royalty. There were also 50 children from the five French communes who had donated the land as a gift to Canada and another 200 children from Arras.

King Edward VIII unveiled the memorial as King of Canada. As Prince of Wales before he was crowned king, Edward had been on the Staff of the Canadian Corps in France during the war. The President of France, Monsieur Albert Lebrun, participated in the official unveiling. During the ceremony, King Edward pulled a cord to release the Union Flag (Union Jack), which covered the statue of “Mother Canada” on the northern wall of the memorial.

In 1996 the Vimy Memorial and the battlefield site surrounding it were established as a National Historic Site of Canada. There are over 950 National Historic Sites of Canada. All but two of the sites are located in Canada. The two sites located outside Canada are the Canadian National Vimy Memorial and the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial on the Somme battlefield. Veteran Affairs Canada maintains the site.

Learn more about this historical site…

It’s not exaggerated when I say THIS document is the rarest travel document type in Canadian passport history.

The passport has the number 673 (of around 6000), so quite a very early issue, and the document condition is just excellent. On May 2, 1936, the passport was issued in Ottawa to Police Constable Charley Bumstead Esq. The passport expired on Aug 1, 1937. Page nine shows the only stamp in the passport = Quebec Immigration, Sep 25, 1936.

Special passport issued by Canada for the 1936 Vimy pilgrimage

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10 Comments

  1. The Vimy passport of W.E. Marley (pristine) is part of my Philatelic exhibit on the Canadian Vimy Pilgrimage of 1936. It is believed that this passport was the first issued by Canada as a British Commonwealth country all Canadian passports of the time would have been issued in the UK (Britain) ~ further clarification would be appreciated. While I haven’t looked lately I believe it may have also included Mr. Marley’s wife ~ I will confirm and send scans via your email later, as currently, I am on vacation. I believe also that the passport ( provided at no cost) and the complete trip package were approx. $160.00 per person ~ was most likely approx. $1500 – 2000.00 in today’s money

    1. Hi Don, congratulations that you hold another VIMY passport – they are most rare! However, your assumption is incorrect. This Pilgrims passport follows the standard version on Canadian passports, except for the cover of course. The passport was issued free of charge. Interesting to learn about the package price. One of the earliest Canadian passports I ever saw was from 1863 (Province of Canada). I would love to see your passport and would be interested to know the passport number. Thanks, Tom

  2. Tom. Great story on the passport. Wondering what is pictured on the inside pages. Richard frrom Pittsburgh, PA.

    1. Hello Richard, thank you for your comment. You are absolutely right, I should show this rare document in its full beauty. So I updated the article. Enjoy the pictures. Best regards, Tom. P.S. By my best knowledge only the war museum in Canada has such a document in their archives. They also show a Vimy Pilgrimage Guidebook, here the link https://www.warmuseum.ca/firstworldwar/objects-and-photos/archival-documents/documents-created-by-organizations/?target=1826

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