The National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa will be open this winter, but only partially, The CJN has learned.
Less than half of the monument’s main level – about 490 square metres of the 1,146 square-metres of total walkable area – will be open in the winter months “to provide residents and visitors year-round access to the interpretation panels and views of the murals,” Cédric Pelletier, a spokesperson for the National Capital Commission, told The CJN via email on Nov. 20.
Lighting above snow level will continue to operate through the winter, Pelletier added.
The upper level of the monument, which houses an observation deck, will be closed “for safety reasons,” he said.
“This approach is consistent with the National Capital Commission’s (NCC) winter maintenance and operations of some of Canada’s Capital Region monuments on federal lands, such as the War Memorial and the Peacekeeping Monument,” Pelletier said.
Late last month, the NCC said the memorial would not be open during the winter months, because snow-clearing operations could damage it.
“Snow removal equipment and salt would risk damaging both the structure and interpretative content,” the NCC said.
Critics said the monument’s winter closure would prevent thousands of students from visiting it.
The closure was blasted in Parliament by Conservative MP Peter Kent, who archly noted: “The death camps operated year round. Why should Canada’s commemoration not?”
As a solution, two specialized pieces of snow removal equipment mounted with rubber blades or brooms to push the snow and “environment friendly” ice-melting products will be used to “protect and preserve the integrity of the monument,” Pelletier explained.
“The NCC will evaluate the impact of the snow removal operations on the structure and integrity of the monument throughout the season,” Pelletier said.
In a tweet on Nov. 17, Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly announced that the monument, which was inaugurated in September, will be open year-round.
“Canadians will be able to reflect on the horrors committed against the 6 million Jewish victims & others while paying tribute to the survivors,” Joly stated.
The announcement closed another embarrassing chapter for the federal Liberals surrounding the $9-million memorial. The structure made international headlines when it was unveiled for failing to mention Jews on the dedication plaque at its entrance.
Red-faced officials quickly removed the plaque and said a new one would be put up that mentions Jews and anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Daniel Friedman, chair of the National Holocaust Monument Development Council, which raised funds for the monument, told The CJN via email that costs for winter maintenance will be split between the NCC and the Heritage Ministry.
Rabbi Friedman, who earlier apologized for the plaque gaffe, said he was “very pleased” the memorial will be kept open all year. He praised Mark Kristmanson, CEO of the NCC, for negotiating “a creative solution” to the snow removal issue.
The monument, which took 10 years to come to fruition, was originally designed to include a roof and a snow-melting system, but both were eliminated to save money.
‘It’s appropriate that Canadians have access to this site all year.’
After saying there were “surely” ways to handle snow and ice, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs tweeted its approval of the recent announcement.
Given that the monument’s purpose is Holocaust remembrance and education, “it’s appropriate that Canadians have access to the site all year, particularly on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which takes place on Jan. 27,” CIJA’s Martin Sampson told The CJN.
The Heritage Ministry was “pleased” to have found a solution, spokesperson Rachel Rappaport related in an email.
She singled out CIJA, the NCC and Liberal MP Michael Levitt for helping to find a solution.
The monument was dedicated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sept. 27, before a crowd of 500 politicians, Holocaust survivors and Jewish communal leaders. Consisting of six large triangular concrete structures in the shape of a star, reminiscent of the yellow Stars of David Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust, it’s situated at the corner of Booth and Wellington streets, next to the Canadian War Museum.