Construction has begun on the new Montreal Holocaust Museum (MHM), which, with its relocation downtown, will be greatly expanded and modernized in its own purpose-built facility.
The budget has increased significantly since the project was first made known in 2018—by $30 million just since the architectural plans were unveiled in September 2022.
The projected cost is now $120 million, which includes $25 million to establish an endowment. To date, $105.4 million has been raised, the MHM says. Fifteen months ago, the corresponding figures were $90 million and $20 million, respectively.
The targeted opening at that time was late 2025. Today, the new MHM’s official inauguration is expected to take place in June 2026.
MHM executive director Daniel Amar told The CJN the price tag was revised last September due mainly to the rising cost of construction, as well as of almost everything else.
It was determined that an extra $20 million was needed for construction, in consultation with the builder Broccolini and project manager Colliers Project Leaders, he said.
In addition, the MHM decided the endowment had to be larger to meet the expected higher cost of operating the new museum, everything from salaries to utilities, and to set aside a contingency fund for any unforeseen expenses.
Amar said construction is actually expected to be completed by the end of 2025, but the public opening will be put off to the following spring when the weather is better.
The site is located at 3535 Saint Laurent Boulevard, just north of Sherbrooke Street, in the popular Plateau Mont Royal borough. The former parking lot is close to the city’s cultural and festivals hub, as well as what was the fabled Jewish neighbourhood until around the 1960s.
The funds raised include $20 million each from the federal and Quebec governments, as well as $1.5 million from the City of Montreal. The Azrieli Foundation is the lead private donor, contributing $25 million (up from an original $15 million commitment), among a lengthy list of individuals, corporations and other foundations giving through the campaign chaired by Julia Reitman.
“The thirst for Holocaust education has never been higher, or more badly needed,” Amar said, referring to the effect of the Israel-Hamas war. “In terms of fundraising, we’ve seen an increase of donors wanting to ensure that our educational offerings and preservation of the Holocaust continues to expand.”
From its founding in 1979, the MHM been in the Federation CJA building in the Cote des Neiges district in the West End, first on the lower level and, for many years, off the foyer. The MHM is counting on a central location in a striking new edifice to give the museum greater visibility and attract more people.
The MHM has received a growing number of visitors over the years, the largest percentage being students. This November, the highest number of visitors in its history was recorded, which Amar thinks can be attributed to an interest in Jewish history sparked by the war
The new premises will have much more space for exhibitions, including those of a high-tech nature, as well as for educational activities and public programming.
The building will better accommodate its vast collection of artifacts, much of it memorabilia entrusted to the MHM by Holocaust survivors.
“The new iconic destination will breathe new energy into ‘The Main’ and enhance Montreal’s architectural landscape,” Amar stated in a press release upon the groundbreaking. “This emblematic building will be a major attraction for a new generation of visitors driven by the desire to promote dialogue and respect for diversity.”
The new museum will ensure that the legacy of the survivors, who were its founders in partnership with a younger Canadian-born generation, will be preserved in perpetuity, he continued.
“Their testimonies and struggles against hatred and prejudice are life lessons that the new museum intends to share with as many people as possible. We look forward to being able to better serve visitors of all ages and backgrounds in our new custom-built facility, where visitors will learn about the Holocaust and its human rights legacy while being inspired to be upstanding citizens today.”
MHM president Jacques Saada expects the new museum will welcome thousands more school-aged children and young adults each year through enhanced educational programming.
“As we face rising intolerance around the world, education remains the greatest tool at our disposal to combat racism, misinformation, and propaganda. The new MHM is well placed to be at the forefront of this fight,” said Saada, immediate past president of the Communauté Sépharade Unifiée du Québec and a former MP and cabinet minister.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said the new MHM will serve as “a place of remembrance, contemplation and knowledge so that we never forget the horrors of the past. Cultural institutions like the museum are essential for promoting diversity and opening up a dialogue by fostering education and awareness among a broad public.
“As a city of peace and culture, Montreal continues to celebrate the important contribution of the Jewish community to its development and reiterates its commitment to combating antisemitism daily.”
An open international competition was held for the museum design. The submission of Toronto-based KPMB Architects, in partnership with the Montreal firm Daoust Lestage Lizotte Steckler, was selected from among 32 proposals from nine countries.
The three-storey building in five sections will be of a pale grey Quebec limestone, with a depth of an entire block. It will have such features as a ground-level, tree-lined open “agora” leading to a garden extending to Saint Dominique Street at the rear.
The building will be 45,000 square feet, including 10,000 square feet for the permanent exhibition, with separate space for temporary exhibitions. Other features include classrooms and a 150-seat auditorium.
Marie-Blanche Fourcade, MHM head of collections and exhibitions, is curating the new museum’s permanent exhibition with internationally recognized Holocaust expert, University of Waterloo professor Robert Jan Van Pelt, associate director of graduate studies in the architecture department.
An authority on the history of Auschwitz, Van Pelt was chief curator of the international traveling exhibition “Auschwitz: Not Far Away, Not Long Ago.”
La bande à Paul, Pelletier de Fontenay and Musealia have been chosen to design the new permanent exhibition, which will be drawn from the MHM’s collection of 13,000 objects and nearly 900 recorded survivor testimonies.
The architectural design has already gained international attention, Amar said. It won the 2022 Canadian Architect Award of Merit and was a finalist in the Future Project-Cultural Category at the 2023 World Architecture Festival.
Originally published in Canadian Jewish News. View the original article here.