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Ottawa unveils Bank Street Cemetery renovation

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Jonathan Freedman and donors
Jonathan Freedman addresses donors ISSIE SCAROWSKY PHOTO

More than 300 people attended a donor recognition ceremony for Ottawa’s newly renovated and updated Bank Street Cemetery.

Sitting outside on a warm and sunny Sept. 25, members of the Jewish community whose financial contributions made the project possible enjoyed the beauty and tranquility of the finished product.

Spearheaded by a generous gift from the estates of the late Irving and Ethel Taylor, a fundraising campaign began in 2015 with a goal of raising $5 million. To date almost $6 million has been raised, from both major donors and many small donations as community members rallied to support the project.

Wreath laid at cemetery rededication
A wreath was laid by, from left, Norman Zagerman, Roger Greenberg, Sol Shabinsky. ISSIE SCAROWSKY PHOTO

“My parents believed in leading by example and hoped that their gift would inspire others to do the same for the benefit of future generations,” said Brent Taylor.

“They were always concerned about the overall condition of our cemetery. It became clear to me in speaking with community leaders that this was a very worthy project desperately in need of a catalyst. I think my parents would be very proud that their donation got the ball rolling and united so many of us here today in the common goal of honouring our friends and loved ones and preserving our Jewish history in Ottawa.”

Prior to an open house for members of the community-at-large, those attending the donor recognition ceremony were able to view the new parking lot; paved walkways throughout the cemetery; new signage; extensive and lush landscaping; an administrative building with washrooms; a number of sinks for washing hands; and buckets of stones for placing on the tombstones.

Sitting under the new gazebo, guests faced the new plaza and monument for fallen Jewish soldiers from the Ottawa area. Yael Aaron, representing her grandfather and uncle, both veterans, read the poem In Flanders Fields, followed by the chanting of Kell Maleh Rachamim by Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and the laying of a wreath by Norman Zagerman, Roger Greenberg and Sol Shabinsky.

In the course of the renovation, the clearing of forest resulted in reclaimed land, which will allow for more available gravesites. Older graves that had been in disrepair were fixed. A special plaza was built around the Holocaust memorial, with a bench for quiet contemplation.

The website www.jewishmemorialgardens.org has a new feature that allows visitors to easily locate a grave, providing a picture of the tombstone and a map with the route to get to it. The information can be accessed easily on a smartphone.

Jonathan Freedman, chair of Jewish Memorial Gardens, which oversees both the Bank Street Cemetery, founded in 1892, and the newer Jewish cemetery in nearby Osgoode, noted and thanked the various dignitaries who attended the ceremony and acknowledged the hard work of the various professionals and volunteers whose dedication enabled the completion of the project on time and on budget.