OTTAWA — The newly opened National Holocaust Monument will close for winter to avoid any damage that could be caused by the need to clear snow.
But the fact so much time and expense went into the soaring concrete structure just west of Parliament Hill, only to end up being closed for half the year, is raising questions about why the Liberal government can’t find a way to keep it open.
The monument was inaugurated in September, nearly a decade after the idea of creating it was first raised in the House of Commons.
The National Capital Commission (NCC) said it will close the monument in late fall, depending on when snow arrives, reopening it early in the spring.
"As is for most of NCC monuments, the National Holocaust Monument will be closed during winter as snow-clearing operations can damage the monument," Cedric Pelletier, NCC strategic communications advisor, said in an email.
The monument was initially designed to include a roof and a snow melting system, but both were removed to save money after consultations with the design team, Canadian Heritage and the National Holocaust Memorial Development Council, Pelletier said.
The council did not return a request for comment Oct. 26. They helped raise roughly half of the $9-million budget for the project, with the rest coming from the federal government.
Conservative MP Peter Kent accused the government of trying to save money by keeping the site closed.
"The death camps operated all year round," he pointed out to Heritage Minister Melanie Joly during question period.
"Why shouldn’t Canada’s commemoration?"
Joly suggested the Conservatives were the ones initially responsible for the issue.
"I’m surprised to hear these concerns coming from the Opposition as these conversations were initiated under their watch," Joly said, but she said it was the NCC ultimately responsible.
Conservative Sen. Linda Frum accused the government of benign neglect of the project overall, pointing to the "bungling" of the dedication plaque, which originally did not mention the Jewish people in its description of the atrocities carried out by Nazis during the Second World War.
The plaque is now being rewritten after an outcry.
Frum said she doesn’t want to politicize the monument, but she described the oversights to date as hurtful.
"Their hearts are not fully into this monument and what it’s there to do."
The monument’s design is called Landscape of Loss, Memory and Survival.
The triangles form a six-pointed Star of David when seen from above. As visitors walk through, each triangle provides a space for a particular theme of commemoration, including an interior room containing a flame of remembrance.
The flame will be turned off in the winter, though the monument itself will continue to be illuminated, Pelletier said.
"While we understand that there may be some concerns about the use of heavy snow-removal equipment on the site, surely there are ways to undertake snow removal and ensure access to this important historical and educational exhibit year-round," said Shimon Koffler Fogel, chief executive officer of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
Frum said she’d visited the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz in the winter months. To experience it in the cold brought home the horrid conditions that victims of the Holocaust faced, she said.
"The potential for that impact in our monument here in Ottawa is the same. It’s a very moving emotional experience to be inside that monument and its starkness, but to do that while it’s also extremely cold out, it potentially could be part of the experience," Frum said.
"I just don’t know why you would go to the trouble of building an $8 to $10-million monument and then close it off to the public for half the year. It doesn’t make sense to me."