Battlefield tour “Canada at Ypres”


See all the main sites associated with the Canadian forces fighting in the Ypres salient and pass through the battlefield areas most closely associated with Canada.

The distance travelled in the tour is 43km. If doing it by car, it would be just over an hour in total driving time. With enough time at each suggested stop, and no doubt a few more en route in order to take in the views, visit the suggested museum and perhaps stop for refreshment, it is at least a half day trip and could even be a full day. But beware – there are so many things to see in this area it is all too easy to be side-tracked!

Google Map

The route and stopping points on this tour can be seen at Google Maps, accessible for your home or any internet-enabled device when travelling. The blue lettered circles are the stops at key locations; the purple marker is the additional but optional visit to a museum. Google Maps also provides step-by-step direction instructions.

See map online (opens new window)


Stop A: starting point: Essex Farm

The convenient starting point is Essex Farm Cemetery, located on the N369 Diksmuide road north of Ypres town centre. It is possible to park alongside the cemetery but beware that it is often busy with tourist buses. The cemetery contains just six Canadian graves (see list) all from the period of the Second Battle of Ypres, but has a far more profound Canadian connection.

Near the cemetery’s entrance gate is a diamond-shaped “Albertina” marker bearing the inscription “John McCrae – In Flanders Fields – 3 Mei (May) 1915”. It is a reminder that it was at this location and on that date that 42-year-old Ontario-born Major John McCrae wrote his poem “In Flanders Fields”. Working at the time as the medical officer attached to 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery, it is said that he did so in response to the death of his friend Leiutenant Alexis Helmer (he is commemorated at the Menin Gate Memorial which we visit at the end of the tour: see register). McCrae’s medical post was reportedly in small dugout cut into the embankment of the Ypres canal, which is behind the cemetery.

Essex Farm, from which the site takes its name, was across the busy road and where two houses now stand on the corner. Alongside the cemetery is a row of preserved concrete shelters, dating to later in the war but also used as a dressing station for casualties. These shelters were inaccessible for decades after the war but eventually renovated and the area made accessible.

It is a moving experience to read McCrae’s poem on the spot:

“In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow* between the crosses, row on row, that mark our place; and in the sky the larks, still bravely singing, fly scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved and were loved, and now we lie, in Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe: to you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders fields.”

*A handwritten copy published in 1919 has “grow” at the end of this phrase rather than “blow”.

On the canal embankment behind the cemetery is an obelisk memorial to the British 49th (West Riding) Division, a territorial formation from Yorkshire which held the front line just across the canal for a lengthy period in 1915-16.

Stop B: Kitchener’s Wood

Travel notes: the route from Essex Farm takes us briefly further into the rear of the battlefield but only to get us onto the main N38 road. This bypasses the north of Ypres and after passing Wieltje motorway junction on the right begins the enter the area over which the Canadian forces fought the Second Battle of Ypres. Beware: the turning onto Wijngaardstraat which takes us to Stop B is not signposted in any way and is onto a narrow, single track lane. It is the second turning on the left after the motorway junction. Look out for the overhead electricity power line as a landmark: the turning is just under it. If you miss it, you will soon pass a military cemetery on the left-hand side of the road and later on would reach the village of St. Julien (Sint-Juliaan). Turn around and come back!

The route has brought us to the epicentre of fighting early in the Second Battle of Ypres. Kitchener’s Wood lay behind the front line held by the French 45th Algerian Division, one of two unfortunate formations hit by the first large-scale release of poisonous Chlorine gas in the afternoon of 22 April 1915. On the right of the French force lay the 1st Canadian Division. The German break into the French area reached as far as Kitchener’s Wood and left the Canadian flank exposed.

Part of a map contained within Nicholson’s Official History (free download pdf of whole book). Note too the location of Keerselare, which we shall visit next.
Same source. In the morning of 23 April 1915, the 10th and 16th Canadian Infantry carried out a counterattack, advancing along the left hand side of the route we have just travelled and into Kitchener’s Wood, where it was held.
This image is from Google Maps, a very useful application for seeing these sites from your own screen. The stone marker on the right is now the only physical reminder that there was ever a wood here, for there is now no trace of it. The Chlorine gas rolled towards this spot from the German lines of 26th Reserve Corps ahead of us in this view, causing mayhem in the trenches of the unprotected French North African troops on our left, who fell back in disarray.

Stop C: “Brooding Soldier” Keerselare

Travel notes: the route from the Kitchener’s Wood marker takes us further into the area from which the German attack came in the Second Battle of Ypres, and turns right (onto Bruine Broekstraat). The main Canadian positions and front line of April 1915 now ran on our right, through the village of St. Julien (now Sint-Juliaan) that you will see across the fields. The area through which we pass also saw terrible, intensive fighting during the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917.

After turning left onto the busier N313 Brugseweg, the route brings us to a crossroads at Keerselare, known to the troops as “Vancouver Corner”. On the right, where a road goes off and is signposted to Zonnebeke (and Dochy Farm New British Cemetery), you will see good free car parking in front of the “Brooding Soldier”, more formally known as the St. Julian Canadian National Memorial.

Frederick Chapman Clemesha’s sculpture, the Brooding Soldier, was selected to serve as the central feature of this monument and its small surrounding park, following a design competition organized by the Canadian Battlefield Monument Commission in 1920. When the competition concluded in 1922, it actually came second to the wonderful larger design used at Vimy Ridge in France. The memorial at St. Julien was unveiled on 8 July 1923 by Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught, and tribute was made by Marshal Foch, former Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers on the Western Front. He said “”The Canadians paid heavily for their sacrifice and the corner of earth on which this memorial of gratitude and piety rises has been bathed in their blood. They wrote here the first page in that Book of Glory which is the history of their participation in the war.” Canadian soil was brought for use in the surrounding park.
Plaque affixed to the memorial. Slightly confusing, possibly, as the “2000 fell” are not buried on this site but in the many military cemeteries in the area. Many were never identified and it is likely that many still lie out in these battlefields..
One of the direction markers around the base of the memorial … and the way we are heading on this tour!

Stop D: Tyne Cot Cemetery

Travel notes: leaving the “Brooding Soldier” by the road to Zonnebeke, we go into what had been the Canadian rear during the Second Battle of Ypres and and the epicentre of the Third Battle. The entire area was devastated and everything you see has been built, developed and laid out since 1919.

Tyne Cot is a location that is not of particular significance to Canadian operations, but is the largest British and Commonwealth war cemetery in the world and the one that contains the most Canadian graves in the Ypres salient area. Its scale is vast and impressive. Behind the cemetery there is a visitor centre that provides good information. A walk around the cemetery, noting the names, ages, dates and regiment of the men (virtually all of whom were brought into this cemetery during post-1918 battlefield clearance) and the often very striking personal famili inscriptions, is fully repaid.

The gentle natural slope of the cemetery site gives visitors a view all the way to the spires and towers of Ypres and the Flemish hills beyond. A reminder of just how small and concentrated this globally significant battlefield area is.

Stop E: Canadian Monument Crest Farm Passchendaele

Travel notes: from Tyne Cot it is a short step to Passchendaele (now Passendale). The journey takes us into the area of the final actions of the Third Battle, in October and November 1917.

Part of a map contained with Nicholson’s official history of the Canadians in the Great War. I have highlighted Crest Farm.

The Canadian Corps entered the battle in this final stage, with the weather and ground conditions being appalling. Facing a gentle uphill advance and German resistance that continued to be most determined, the Corps gained its objective of the slightly higher ground on which Passchendaele stands. It was 2nd Canadian Division that was in action on this ground. At the site of Crest Farm stands one of the block-shaped monuments that were erected at key Canadian sites after the Great War (it was apparently originally intended that they should all have Clemesha’s brooding soldier design). The monument, and nearby information boards, tells the story.

From the monument, a view down “Canadalaan” into the rebuilt village.

Passchendaele is today a pleasant village with shops, cafes and bars that battlefield tourists may welcome at this stage of the tour. They may also wish to seek out the locally produced Passandale cheese and beer!

Stop F: Battalion Memorial Passchendaele

Travel notes: leaving Passchendaele by the N303 Passendalestraat in the direction of Ypres and Zonnebeke, we are heading back towards the Canadians start line for the assault on the village. Just as you approach the end of the built-up area of the village, you will pass a lane on the left (Nieuwe Molenstraat). Coninue on the N303 until you reach a bus stop on the left and a junction on the right (Rozenstraat). Find somewhere sensible and safe to park: beware that the N303 can be very busy. On the left hand side just opposite the junction is a sign and a grass path leading out across the fields to the obelisk-shaped memorial.

This image from Google Maps may help you find the path. The memorial can be seen in the distance on the left hand side of the photograpoh.

The 85th Infantry Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) was positioned on the Canadian’s right-hand flank. It participated in the third phase of the attack, carried out from28 October to 2 November, and sustained its greatest number of casualties of action it fought in the Great War. The memorial is believed to be the first erected in the Ypres salient after the end of the war and lists 12 officers and 132 other ranks who losttheir lives on this ground.

Optional stop: Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 Zonnebeke

Travel notes: I have built this into the tour as an option but recommend that a visit is made it you have the time to do so. It requires a simple detour into the centre of Zonnebeke village from the defined route between Stops F and G. It is well signposted locally. The entrance is on the N322 Ieperstraat road in the centre of the village near the large and conspicuous church.

Details of opening times, admission prices, facilities, disability access, car parking (which is on Berten Pilstraat alongside the museum site), etc. can all be found at the museum’s website A reasonable tour of the museum would be about 1.5 hours long.

Stop G: Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Memorial

Travel notes: the route now takes us back through an area that saw much fighting in the Second and Third Battles, mainly by using the straight N37 road. This road was laid on the line of a pre-1914 railway that bisected the Ypres salient and which appears in many campaign maps. It provies excellent views across a wide area of the battlefield. After passing the large junction with the A19 motorway (obviously another post-war addition to the geography), look out for the first crossroads and turn left onto Oude Bellewaardestraat. Follow it round a left hand bend, at which point its name changes to Oude Kortrijkstraat. When you have visited the PPCLI memorial, retrace your steps to the N37.

A relatively new (2015) battlefield memorial recalling the part played by the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, Canada’s first unit to enter a theatre of operations in 1914, in the fight for the Frezenberg ridge in the Second Battle of Ypres. It was under orders of 80th Infantry Brigade of British 27th Division at the time.

From a photograpy by Kris Callaerts, with my thanks.

Stop H: Canadian Monument Hill 62 (Sanctuary Wood)

Travel notes: the N37 soon reaches an innocent-looking traffic roundabout. This is on the site of the notorious spot known as “Hellfire Corner”. Take the last exist turn onto the N8, signposted Geluveld and Bellewaarde: this is the equally notorious Menin Road. We are now travelling, once again, away from Ypres deeper into the battlefield. Note rhe ridge of slightly higher, wooded, ground ahead: the front line ran along it in the period from May 1915 to July 1917. The Hill 62 Memorial is clearly signposted on the right.

The second of the national battlefield monuments on this tour is just like that at Crest Farm in that it is positioned on a key location, in this instance the high ground recaptured by Canadian forces in the Battle of Mount Sorrel in June 1916. The views from the summit can be very good but are dependent on the leaf growth of surrounding trees (so are better in winter). The inscribed text on the monument describes events. The lane leading up to the monument (Canadalaan) passes by Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, the adjacent memorial to Gilbert Talbot, and the Sanctuary Wood Inn and Trench Museum. All are easy to spot and are within walking distance of each other. The latter two of these locations do not have explicit connections to Canada but there are 74 Canadian graves within the cemetery, mostly relating to the fighting of March to June 1916.

Stop I: Railway Dugouts Burial Gound (Transport Farm) Cemetery

Travel notes: return via the Menin Road to Hellfire Corner and take the last exit to Zillebeke. Pass through the village centre. At the t-junction in the village turn right onto Blauwepoortstraat and follow it to the next t-junction. Again turn right, this time onto Komenseweg in the direction of Ypres. After crossing a railway, you will soon see the cemetery on your left.

Source: Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

This cemetery is of Canadian interest as it contains the second-highest number of Canadian burials after Tyne Cot: more than 500. It is situated next to where a railway from Ypres ran on an embankment overlooking a small farmstead, which was known to the troops as Transport Farm. The site of the cemetery was screened by slightly rising ground to the east, and burials began there in April 1915. At the time of the Armistice, more than 1,700 graves in the cemetery were known and marked. Other graves were then brought in from the battlefields and small cemeteries in the vicinity. The Canadian burials include a small number from 22-23 April 1915 (all in plot VIII, row A) but they are mainly of the period March to August 1916 when the Canadian units held the front line to the east and also participated in the Battle of Mount Sorrel.

Stop J: end point: Ypres Memorial (Menin Gate)

Travel notes: contine long the Komenseweg and follow directions to Ypres centre (centrum). I suggest that yiou complete this journey by parking anywhere convenient and walking to the Menin Gate. There are many possibilities for refreshment and depending on your timing you may wish to witness the 8pm Last Post ceremony that takes place every day. Beware, especially in high tourist season, that large crowds gather and you may need to be there up to an hour in advance if you wish to gain a good front-row position.

The Menin Gate memorial bears the names of more than 54,000 officers and men whose graves are not known. Of these, more than 6,000 were serving with Canadian forces in the Ypres area when they lost their life. They have no known graves, although many lie in the military cemeteries, unidentifibale and marked only as an unknown soldier. The list is arranged by regiment, with the Canadian troops being listed together.

I hope you enjoy this “Canada at Ypres” tour.


Second Battles of Ypres 1915

27th Division

Battle of Mount Sorrel 1916

Third Battles of Ypres 1917

Canadian Official Histories