The National Memorial Centre, a place where solemn remembrance, state ceremonies and private services in many faiths can be held, has opened in Ottawa directly adjacent to the National Military Cemetery of the Canadian Forces.
Prominent among the centre’s elements is a Hall of Colours where Canada’s proud regiments and units can retire their colours and flags with dignity. The hall was made possible through a donation of $50,000 from Dominion Command of The Royal Canadian Legion in light of the Legion’s historical commitment to Canada’s ships, regiments and squadrons.
The central component of the National Memorial Centre is a 14,000-square-foot, nine-sided building that can be used for ceremonies or special events at the historic Beechwood Cemetery. It is intended to have a strong multi-faith component, open to all the religions recognized by Canadians. The centre was built at a cost of $6.7 million, much of it raised through private donations.
The huge hall can seat 400 people. There is no permanent seating so that chairs can be arranged in the appropriate fashion to suit the occasion. At the centre of the room is a large rock unearthed from the cemetery’s own property. The rock is there to remind people that in the midst of transient life, there is permanence. In a time of mourning it offers comfort as a symbol of things steadfast and enduring.
Governor General Michaëlle Jean officially opened the National Memorial Centre April 7, arriving in the cool, early spring air in a horse-drawn landau accompanied by Royal Canadian Mounted Police members in scarlet on horseback.
Jean spoke of her experiences as commander-in-chief of the Canadian Forces visiting troops on ships and in places such as Haiti and Kandahar. “Let us never forget the sacrifices that all of the soldiers at rest here have willingly made on behalf of our freedom. It is fitting that we should pay tribute to their invaluable contribution,” she said. “This memorial centre is a promise made to the women and men who came before us and who shared their energy, enthusiasm and unique vision of the world. It is a promise never to forget, despite the passage of time. It is a promise to continue their work and to add to it for the benefit of future generations. It is a promise to endeavour always to improve the lives of those around us.”
Most significantly, the Hall of Colours features a Plinth of Sacrifice in its centre which will be the resting place for caskets during memorial services for veterans about to be laid to rest. The plinth will be engraved with the poppy, the Legion’s symbol associated with those who have served their country.
Above the plinth is a high ceiling, so the laid-up colours of military units can hang out of human reach. “The reason for hanging the colours is to let them disintegrate naturally,” said Padre Gerry Peddle, who presided over the blessing of the first two colours to be retired in the hall.
Those were the colours of the Royal Canadian Regiment and the Royal 22nd Regiment. The regiments presented both the colour of their unit and the regal colour that accompanies it.
The room itself is dominated by a five-metre high stained glass window donated by the Canadian Military Chaplains Association which pays tribute to the crucial role that chaplains have played in the life of the military. The Legion also made a $5,000 donation towards the window.
Adjacent to the hall is a large reception area. Outside the building are gardens for thoughtful reflection. The centre will be available to The Royal Canadian Legion when requested for significant remembrance and other ceremonies.
Dominion President Jack Frost presented the Legion’s gift to retired lieutenant-general Charles Belzile, co-chair of the Partnership Committee and to General Maurice Baril, the former chief of defence staff, who is chair of the Beechwood Memorial Centre Inaugural Fundraising Campaign. The presentation was part of a ceremony at the centre May 22 which announced that the campaign had reached the half-way point in its efforts to raise $1 million for the centre.
Frost said the donation was made on behalf of all Legion members since the hall would always represent the significance of remembrance.
The National Memorial Centre complements the National Military Cemetery for the Canadian Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Cemetery and a veterans cemetery. Former prime minister Sir Robert Borden, governor general Ray Hnatyshyn and Sir Sanford Fleming are buried within the adjacent Beechwood Cemetery grounds.
Branches wishing to contribute to the National Memorial Centre can send donations to the Beechwood Cemetery Foundation, 280 Beechwood Ave., Box 7025, Ottawa, ON K1L 8E2.
Window Celebrates The Role Of Military Chaplains
Hope In A Broken World is the theme chosen for a magnificent stained glass window paying tribute to the sacrifices of Canada’s military chaplains unveiled in November at The National Memorial Centre in Ottawa.
Commissioned by the Canadian Military Chaplains Association, the window was created by Bill vanDerboor of Luxfer Studios Ltd. in Toronto. The window cost $35,000. This money was raised by the association with the help of a $5,000 grant from Dominion Command of The Royal Canadian Legion.
The five-metre-high, two-metre wide window is the only window in the room. It is lit by magnified natural lighting from outside that makes the multi-coloured image come alive.
The base of the window illustrates a scene from the life of Saint Martin of Tours, the fourth-century soldier who would become the Bishop of Tours in France. While still a soldier, Martin came across a nearly naked beggar on a frigid day. Martin is said to have taken his own fine white cloak lined with lamb’s wool and sliced it in two in order to give half to the beggar to shield him from the cold.
The story is an important one for chaplains, said Padre Gerry Peddle, a former chaplain-general and member of the Beechwood Cemetery Foundation. “The word chaplain comes from the Old French word ‘chapelain,’ meaning cloak,” he said.
Around the image of Saint Martin and the beggar are ghost-like images of those who have served in Canada’s military. “The images are from the founding of Canada right up to modern day peacekeeping operations,” said Peddle. The images include soldiers, sailors, airmen and nursing sisters. Among those images are a scene from the repatriation of the Unknown Soldier for the Tomb at the National War Memorial and the brooding image of a mother weeping for her sons on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France.
All these images are imposed over a grey stained glass image of a rock representing the chaos and conflict of war. Out of the rock grows the Tree of Life which dominates the window. Behind the tree is the sun with its rays filling out the top portion of the window. “The sun is source of all light and life and also represents God, the ultimate source of all light and life. Even the rock would not exist without God,” said Peddle.
Under the tree is the other dominate image of the window that of a military chaplain administering the last rites to a soldier who has fallen on the battlefield. The colours in these figures are rich representing the real world which is influenced by the ghostly figures around the rock.