“Someday, when people gather around a national Holocaust monument in Ottawa, one person in particular will be proud of its establishment. She’s University of Ottawa student Laura Grosman. At 21 years of age, she has worked tirelessly for two years… to get the federal government to honour Holocaust victims by erecting a national monument in Ottawa.”
So wrote Benita Siematycki in the November 16, 2009 edition of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.
A decade after Laura first articulated a vision of Canada having a monument in the national capital, the National Holocaust Monument – as it is now officially known – was dedicated in Ottawa on September 27 just as we were completing work on this issue of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin. Reporter Benita Baker attended the ceremony and her report will appear in our next edition (but can already be read online at this link).
From its conception to its dedication, the National Holocaust Monument involved many people and organizations, elected officials and government bureaucrats. It took a decade, millions of dollars and much perseverance by so many to accomplish.
But it all started with a vision articulated by a determined teenaged student at the University of Ottawa. While we’ve told Laura Grosman’s story before in the Bulletin, it bears repeating at this important time as a reminder of the remarkable difference that one person – no matter how young they may be – can make.
Ten years ago, Laura took a course on the Holocaust taught by Professor Rebecca Margolis of uOttawa’s Vered Jewish Canadian Studies program. She learned that Canada was then the one Allied country that fought the Nazis during the Second World War that did not have a national Holocaust monument.
Two significant factors influenced Laura’s determination to see a national Holocaust monument built in Ottawa. “The first is her family history. Laura’s paternal grandfather was a Holocaust survivor who never spoke much about his past. When he died, says Laura, his story went with him. The second factor is Laura’s fascination with all things political. She is a self-professed political junkie and loves nothing more than being involved in the political system,” wrote Siemiatycki in 2009.
“It’s pretty embarrassing for someone like me who’s involved politically to know that Canada is the only Allied country that doesn’t have a national monument. We have a national Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony that’s held where we can place them. That’s not acceptable to me,” she told Siemiatycki.
Laura came to uOttawa after growing up in Thornhill, a suburb north of Toronto, and as a politically aware young person she began to enlist federal politicians in supporting her cause. The first to come on board was her own MP, Liberal Susan Kadis, who began the process of drafting a private member’s bill to establish the monument.
Laura wanted the establishment of the monument to be a nonpartisan effort and other MPs she enlisted in the cause included Richard Marceau of the Bloc Québécois (who is now general counsel and senior government adviser at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs), and Conservatives Peter Kent (who defeated Kadis in the 2008 election) and Tim Uppal.
Kadis’ private member’s bill to establish the monument died when the 2008 election was called. She defeated in Thornhill by Kent who was subsequently appointed to cabinet. As a minister, Kent could not sponsor a private member’s bill but the torch was picked up by Uppal, an MP from Edmonton.
Uppal’s bill – Bill C-442, an Act to Establish a National Holocaust Memorial – was passed in 2011 and the National Holocaust Monument Development Council was created to work with the federal government to acquire the land for the monument across from the Canadian War Museum, commission the design, raise the millions of dollars necessary to build the monument funds (matched by government funding), and oversee the construction. All of that took another six years.
But it all started 10 years ago with Laura Grosman, a teenager who found it unacceptable that Canada did not have a national Holocaust monument; a teenager with an ambitious dream and the dedication to make that dream a reality.