April 14, 2017

Ukrainian-led design team awaits decision on Ottawa’s Victims of Communism memorial

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The design team (from left): Larysa Kurylas, Wiktor Moskaliuk and Claire Bedat.

The design team (from left): Larysa Kurylas, Wiktor Moskaliuk and Claire Bedat.

OTTAWA – An architectural team led by a Ukrainian Canadian is expecting a decision by month’s end as to whether its design has been selected to bring life to a long-awaited Victims of Communism memorial in the Canadian capital in the spring of 2019.

The design by Ontario architect Wiktor Moskaliuk, Ukrainian American architect Larysa Kurylas and Washington, D.C.-based landscape architect Claire Bedat is one of five in competition and has emerged as the public favorite in an online poll run by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC).

Team Moskaliuk’s concept focuses on the four principles of democracy – equality, freedom, justice and representation – depicted in four spire-like pillars made of white granite that comprise the focus of the memorial to be situated on a 5,382-square-foot area in what is known in Ottawa as the Garden of the Provinces and Territories, located west of Parliament Hill.

White granite was selected as the material for the pillars at the core of the monument to convey “the idea of democracy as a pure ideal” that drew more than 8 million people from communist countries to come to Canada over the past century, explained Ms. Kurylas, who designed the Holodomor Memorial to Victims of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932-1933 in Washington.

“What attracted these refugees from communism is that they inherently understood that human rights were guaranteed by democracy in Canada,” she noted.

The slightly raised central oval plinth, on which the four pillars will stand, is shaped like a shield, symbolizing “Canada’s protection of democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” according to Team Moskaliuk’s project description. Granite, built into cobblestone paving and extracted from the Canadian Shield, is configured to form a “finger-like pattern embodying the traces of humanity.”

At night, the monument will be illuminated at the center through bronze torches placed at the bottom of each pillar, to serve as an “inspirational beacon of light.”

Radiating from the four-pillar core are 200 bronze blades, each of which represents 500,000 victims, or an estimated 100 million lives lost to communism worldwide. Each blade will also be etched with the surnames of five victims submitted by Canadian families who contribute $1,000 (Canadian) toward the $3 million (about $2.2 million U.S.) memorial, the costs of which will be split between the Canadian government and Tribute to Liberty, a Canadian charity formed in 2008 with the goal of creating a monument to commemorate victims of communism.

Each name on each blade will bear a QR-code, which can be scanned at the location with an iPhone to link to that person’s story on a Tribute to Liberty website.

At the entrance to the memorial site, there will be a triangular-shaped bronze plaque, inscribed in English and French on each side, which will read:

“Memorial To The Victims of Communism. Canada, A Land Of Refuge.”

“Dedicated to the 100 million people who have perished under communist tyranny worldwide and to the hundreds of thousands of more fortunate Canadians who arrived here first as refugees fleeing communist regimes, risking everything to reach Canada’s borders in the hope of finding freedom and building a new future in a true democracy, supported on the pillars of equality, freedom, justice and representation.”

The letters in the memorial title will also be illuminated from within.

Team Moskaliuk spent three intensive 10-hour days last November in Washington brainstorming on how to properly commemorate the victims of communism and portray Canada as a refuge.

The challenge was to avoid making the memorial “too broad in its symbolism that it has no meaning,” Ms. Kurylas explained in a phone interview from the U.S. capital. “We wanted to make it worthwhile for somebody, whether a Ukrainian, a Pole or a Chinese person, to come to this memorial and get something out of it – so it had to be specific.”

The project description outlines the intent: victims of communism not only found refuge in Canada, but they also found:

• “equality of opportunity to seek happiness and success”;

• “freedoms – of religion, speech and assembly”;

• “justice in fair treatment under the law”; and

• “a system of representation guaranteeing their right to self-government.”

Including 1,000 names of victims and their stories in the memorial will ensure that they and millions of others are not forgotten, said Mr. Moskaliuk in an interview.

“Each one of them is valuable, and all of these people died for nothing basically – whether it was, from the Ukrainian experience, starving to death during the Holodomor or being sent to Siberia to work in the mines,” he explained.

For Mr. Moskaliuk and Ms. Kurylas, the design project has been a deeply personal experience.

Both architects’ families fled communist regimes.

Ms. Kurylas’s parents were from Ternopil Oblast and left Soviet Ukraine in 1943 for Germany before immigrating to the United States in 1951 and settling in Baltimore, where Ms. Kurylas was born 59 years ago.

Following the second world war, Mr. Moskaliuk’s Polish-born mother and his father, who was born and raised in the Volyn region of western Ukraine, ended up in a displaced persons camp in Germany before moving to the English city of Coventry, where he was born 66 years ago.

Team Moskaliuk’s design for the Victims of Communism memorial in Ottawa.

Team Moskaliuk

Team Moskaliuk’s design for the Victims of Communism memorial in Ottawa.

Team Moskaliuk is also composed of talented professionals.

Team captain Mr. Moskaliuk, who also serves as vice-president of buildings and places with the Canadian arm of global architectural and engineering company, AECOM, has an impressive architectural portfolio that stretches from princely palaces and university campuses in the Middle East to retractable acoustic banners he created (and for which he received a patent) for Toronto’s famous SkyDome (now Rogers Center).

Ms. Bedat is involved in a project, led by the world-renowned, Canadian-born American architect Frank Gehry, to design the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington.

And Ms. Kurylas’s artistic vision, which she displayed so masterfully with the Holomodor memorial, was central to the Victims of Communism commemoration design. Her 30-foot sculpture in the U.S. capital depicts a field of wheat that appears to gradually disappear to illustrate, in her words, “the deliberateness of the famine.”

But the collaborative design effort for the Ottawa project did not involve simply sketching out structures for the space.

From the time the trio was invited to submit a proposal last November until early March, when they submitted it to Canadian Heritage to be reviewed by an expert jury, they closely collaborated, via phone and e-mail, on every facet of the site on a project that looped in various trades and skills sets.

“We had input from 20 people on the technical aspects of the design,” said Mr. Moskaliuk. “We had to look at every detail, from where do we bring in the power for the lighting and where to drain water from the site, to where to get trees and get the bronze blades made.”

Fortunately, Team Moskaliuk had some experience working with the Canadian government. The group previously submitted another design for the Ottawa memorial for another location three years ago.

Former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government chose a site near the Supreme Court of Canada rather than the one originally planned at the Garden of the Provinces and Territories.

The Tories’ pick was fraught with controversy. Critics argued that the land was an inappropriate choice as a home for the memorial, either because it was reserved for a new Federal Court building (to be named in honor of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s late father, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau) or that the monument’s subject matter about victims of communism was not quite Canadian (although the Trudeau Liberals made it so, when last year they returned the memorial to its original site and emphasized “Canada, a land of refuge” in the theme).

Mr. Moskaliuk also felt that the Supreme Court site was inappropriate from a planning perspective, but takes exception with those who challenge the focus of the monument.

“If we’re doing memorials everywhere for the 6 million people who died in the Holocaust, there also has to be an acknowledgement of the 100 million deaths caused by communist ideology – from the Soviet Gulag to the killing fields in Cambodia,” he said by phone from Toronto.

In fact, construction is under way on a $7.4 million (about $5.5 million U.S.) National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa to be situated between Parliament Hill and the Canadian War Museum, and not far from the Victims of Communism memorial.

The Star of David-styled monument, designed by world-famous Polish American architect Daniel Libeskind (a son of Holocaust survivors), will feature large landscape photos by renowned Ukrainian Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky displayed on six concrete and metal triangular walls.

The memorial is considered the most complex new monument in the Canadian capital since the National War Memorial, which was dedicated by King George VI in 1939.

Ultimately, the hope is that there will never again be a need to memorialize victims of the atrocities of the Holocaust, the Holodomor, and other genocides and horrors driven by hatred and ideology.

“One always tries to be an optimist,” said Mr. Moskaliuk. “That’s all we can do.”

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