A new, 1,300-square-metre memorial centre unveiled yesterday by Canada’s Governor General equips Ottawa’s historic Beechwood Cemetery to host official funerals for fallen soldiers and police officers, while giving mourners a place to reflect.
“There are people buried in this cemetery who built this country through sheer determination, conviction and courage,” Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean said yesterday, in joining other dignitaries to officially open the Beechwood National Memorial Centre.
A hall of military colours, a memorial window and reception rooms provide mourners with a place to reflect on the sacrifices of Canada’s army, navy and air force veterans, as well as Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other police officers.
One third of the 82 soldiers who have died serving in Afghanistan are interred at the National Military Cemetery, which shares space at Beechwood with the RCMP Memorial Cemetery. Sylvia Ceacero, executive director of Beechwood, said the new centre’s intent is to host funeral ceremonies in a space that allows families to celebrate the life of the deceased in the tradition they desire, and in the same place where the person will be buried.
Previously there was only a Christian chapel at the cemetery that was not ideal for large funerals. The new centre features a large non-denominational “Sacred Space” that can accommodate larger crowds.
“As you can imagine, every time we have a ceremony for a fallen soldier or police officer, there are great numbers of people who want to pay tribute,” she said.
Ceacero is waiting to hear whether or not Pte. Terry John Street — originally of Gatineau and the 82nd Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan — will be interred at Beechwood. If so, it could mark the first military funeral held in the new centre.
There are no religious icons in the Sacred Space, only a large rock in the middle of the room. But Padre Gerry Peddle, vice-chair of the Beechwood Cemetery Foundation, said the Sacred Space is more than just another ecumenical chapel.
“This rock in the very centre, immovable, here forever, was placed in the cemetery at the moment of creation,” he said. “It is a reminder that in the midst of our fragile and, often too short, human lives there is a presence and reality that is so far beyond us.”