The History of the National Military Cemetery of the Canadian Forces

20 YEARS HAVE GONE BY since then Governor General Adrienne Clarkson officially opened the National Military Cemetery of the Canadian Forces at Beechwood (June 28, 2001). Defence Minister Art Eggleton and Chief of Defence Staff General Maurice Baril participated in the ceremony held on a beautiful, sunny Ottawa morning. It featured all the tradition military ceremonial including a 21 gun salute, a full GGFG Ceremonial Guard parading in scarlet tunics and a fly-past by CF-18 fighter jets in lost-man formation.

However, the creation of the National Military Cemetery of the Canadian Forces was not an overnight decision and took several years of planning, dialogue and conversations. A conversation with historian Jack Granatstein, who at that time was the head of the Canadian War Museum, set some planning in motion. With speculation that the new Canadian War Museum would be built at the Rockcliffe Air Base, Robert (Bob) White, then a member of the Beechwood Board, requested an introductory meeting between the two organizations to discuss possible partnership opportunities including creating a link to the Field of Honour (Section 27), which has over 2,400 graves including the graves of Second World War Generals Charles Foulkes and Henry Crerar.

At that meeting, Beechwood also learned that DND wished to create a National Military Cemetery, here in Ottawa. As CDS at the time, General Baril was personally committed to creating a National Military Cemetery as he believed that DND had the responsibility of providing a dignified final resting place for Canadian Forces members, particularly those killed in the line of duty, and that responsibility was not currently being met.

With the initiative and guidance of Bob White, Beechwood jumped at the opportunity to connect with DND and to offer insights and help. Bob then began a long and detailed process of conversation, consultation and detailed planning with Commodore Glen Davidson, a senior officer in DND, who, in their first meeting explained that the Rockcliffe property had been transferred to Lands Canada and that General Baril’s vision might, unfortunately, have been put on hold.

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