Beechwood Cemetery honours Grete Hale, Joseph Currier with new plaques

More than 200 people were on hand Sunday for the unveiling of two plaques at Beechwood Cemetery to honour key builders of what is now the national cemetery of Canada. The plaques honour Joseph Currier, the lumber baron and politician who helped found the cemetery in 1873, and Grete Hale, the businesswoman and philanthropist who helped save it from the developers in the 1990s. Among those in attendance for Sunday’s ceremony, held as the cemetery celebrates its 150th anniversary, were some of Hale’s relatives.

“I’m very excited about this: Grete was a huge, huge fan of Beechwood,” said Kelly Kubrick, Hale’s niece.

Kubrick said she grew up hearing her aunt tell stories about the “Battle for Beechwood” in the 1990s, when a former board member secretly accumulated shares in what was then a private, joint stock company, leading to fears that some of the cemetery could be sold for a housing development. A seven-year court battle ensued. Those defending the integrity of Beechwood ultimately won in court, and the cemetery was later converted to a non-profit foundation to ensure it would not be threatened again.

Hale’s plaque reads in part: “Hale served on dozens of corporate and community boards, including serving as president of Beechwood Cemetery, a foundation where she fought for its very existence for all Canadians.” Ian Guthrie, a longtime member of the cemetery’s board of directors, called Hale “one of the most amazing people I ever knew in my life.” “She helped ensure Beechwood would remain a public possession, and belong to Canadians rather than shareholders,” he said.

Nick McCarthy, Beechwood’s director of marketing, said Hale also played key roles in ensuring Beechwood became the national cemetery of Canada, and in the construction of the cemetery’s Sacred Space. “Everywhere you look, Grete Hale’s influence can be seen at Beechwood,” he said. “She was a powerhouse.”

The original shareholders of the Beechwood Cemetery Company of Ottawa were prominent residents, chief among them Joseph Currier.

Currier was the first president of Beechwood Cemetery, a position he held until his death in April 1884. His new Beechwood plaque reads: “A supporter of Confederation, he represented By Ward on the Ottawa City Council and was elected to the parliament of the Province of Canada for Ottawa.”

From 1872 to 1877, he was president of the Citizen Printing and Publishing Company, which owned the Ottawa Daily Citizen. The house he had built in 1868 for his third wife at 24 Sussex Drive became the troubled home for most of Canada’s prime ministers since 1950.

The plaques were unveiled as part of the cemetery’s 29th annual historical tour. This year’s walking tour featured actors from the Ottawa School of Theatre playing roles of five featured decedents. In addition to Hale and Currier, the cemetery highlighted the lives of James Mather, an early Bytown architect who designed the buildings at Beechwood; Mauril Bélanger, a Liberal politician who pushed for Beechwood to be named Canada’s national cemetery; and John Macoun, one of Canada’s foremost field naturalists, after whom Beechwood’s Macoun Marsh is named.

Beechwood’s annual historical tour — A Walk through 150 Years — was held Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023 in Beechwood Cemetery. PHOTO BY ASHLEY FRASER /Postmedia