Simple rock to be the focus of Beechwood memorial centre
In an age when a lot of people are trying to kill one another in the name of religion, it is a quietly powerful idea: Make a place of remembrance in Canada’s capital that all can share, whatever their faith.
Today, Ottawa’s historic Beechwood Cemetery will mark the beginning of a one- year, $ 5million construction project to build the Beechwood National Memorial Centre, not with a traditional ground- breaking, but with the unearthing of a grey rock.
Yesterday, staff of the cemetery — also the site of Canada’s National Military Cemetery — were scouring its acreage for the special rock that will be placed at the middle of the centre.
That rock will be symbolic of creation, stability and durability. It’s a symbol that has special resonance as young Canadian soldiers are dying on their mission in Afghanistan.
“ A rock is hard and durable. It lasts forever. You compare that with our earthly frame which is fragile, here today and gone tomorrow,” says Padre Gerry Peddle, former chaplain general of the Canadian Forces, who is one of the people behind the Memorial Centre project. “ It’s a symbol of durability and steadfastness,” and an important part of many faith stories, says Padre Peddle.
The board of Beechwood, a nonprofit community cemetery founded in 1873 and the final resting place of many prominent Canadians, started thinking about the Memorial Centre a few years ago. Grete Hale, president of the Beechwood Cemetery Foundation, says the cemetery needed to build a place where services could be held, both for military families and the cemetery’s other clients, who increasingly come from different faiths.
As well, the board believes the Ontario government will soon make legal changes to allow cemeteries to hold funerals, and Beechwood’s existing chapel is very small. In the era of onestop shopping, Beechwood wants to offer more than just cemetery services.
So the board talked to different faith groups, and the Ontario Multi- Faith Council, about what could be built. Beechwood hired Robertson Martin Architects, of Ottawa — a small firm specializing in heritage projects — to design the Memorial Centre.
Architects Robert Martin and Danica Robertson say it was a dream commission — working for a sophisticated, passionate group of people who wanted to create a first- of- its- kind building. They walked the site, saw all those famous Beechwood boulders and the cemetery’s beautiful landscaping, and listened to what everyone had to say, especially Padre Peddle.
They designed the Memorial Centre to have nine sides — not quite a circle. It allows different faith groups to stand in the room and face whatever part of the Earth is holiest to them. There will be no religious icons in the building, but people will be encouraged to bring religious pieces into the centre for memorial ceremonies. Pews used in Christian ceremonies — which will comprise most of the services — can be taken out for Muslim ceremonies, where the faithful kneel on the floor.
The building will include a glass dome, radiant heat from the floor and at least some copper exterior. Outside there will be a herb garden and a reflecting pool. The main room in the building will hold up to 400 people.
Mr. Martin says that conflicts between religious zealots cause strife, but that death “ levels us all.” He sees the Memorial Centre as a place where different peoples can “ celebrate life together in a common space.”
Ms. Robertson believes the centre will prompt some people to rethink the way they hold funeral services. Mrs. Hale hopes that the Memorial Centre will be “ sacred to all.”
The building project, involving 14,000 square feet, should be finished by next October. The cemetery has about $ 2 million of the $ 5- million cost in hand.
Mrs. Hale says the Memorial Centre, a dream of the cemetery’s board, could help fulfil the even bigger dream of Beechwood becoming a national cemetery for Canada. She says that’s possible because the people who founded the museum 133 years ago thought big and bought 160 acres of woodland for the cemetery. With all that land, Beechwood can continue operating for “ hundreds of years,” she says.