City of Montreal gives $1.5M to new Holocaust museum; recognizes May as Jewish Heritage Month

Mayor Valérie Plante is guided through the Montreal Holocaust Museum by survivor Elie Dawang. (City of Montreal photo)

The City of Montreal will contribute $1.5 million toward the new Montreal Holocaust Museum (MHM), Mayor Valérie Plante announced during a visit to the existing museum on the eve of Yom ha-Shoah.

The city follows the Quebec and federal governments which have each pledged $20 million toward the $90-million project. The MHM, located since its founding in 1979 in the Federation CJA building in the Côte des Neiges district, is to relocate into much larger facilities downtown in 2025.

In February, the MHM officially announced plans to build a new museum at 3535 St. Laurent Blvd., near the Quartier des Spectacles, an entertainment and cultural hub.

The Azrieli Foundation is the lead donor at $15 million among the private contributors to the project. The MHM says it has $10 million left to raise in its Give Voice campaign, which includes a $15 million endowment fund.

Plante attended a private Yom ha-Shoah commemoration at the MHM on the morning of April 27 with community leaders, Holocaust survivors and other key figures associated with the project.

“Each year, alongside its partners, the City of Montreal commemorates Yom ha-Shoah,” she stated. “We remember all those who lost their lives and all those who put their lives at risk to save others. For over 40 years, the MHM has worked to educate and raise awareness about the genocide of millions of Jews.”

Plante was accompanied by Outremont borough councillor Mindy Pollak, a member of the Hasidic community whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors.

For the third year, the mayor did not host a Yom ha-Shoah commemoration at city hall due to the pandemic, but the council did pass a motion recognizing the day of remembrance.

Plante also underlined the council’s unanimous decision the day before to recognize May as Jewish Heritage Month. The motion was presented by opposition councillor Sonny Moroz, the sole Jewish councillor on the 64-seat body.

With that gesture, Plante said, the city “reiterates its commitment to celebrate the Jewish community’s contributions to the development of Montreal and to fight antisemitism in the city on a daily basis.”

MHM president Richard Schnurbach, the grandchild of a Holocaust survivor, welcomed the city’s support, saying it “confirms the ongoing commitment of the City of Montreal to fight antisemitism, racism and other forms of discrimination, notably through education. In a context marked by the rise of discrimination against minorities, Holocaust education remains essential for building vigilant and tolerant citizens.”

Director Daniel Amar applauded Plante’s personal commitment. “As Mayor Plante has repeatedly reminded us, the City of Montreal has zero tolerance for racism and antisemitism. By supporting the new Museum project, the city is asserting its leadership in the promotion of human rights and the fight against all forms of discrimination.”

Relations between the Jewish community leadership and Plante have been strained in the past over her Projet Montréal administration’s reluctance to support the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. Twice during her first mandate, opposition attempts to have the definition considered were shelved. Plante was re-elected last November.

The city executive committee member responsible for culture and heritage, Ericka Alneus, noted that the new MHM will stand on St. Laurent, a historic thoroughfare emblematic of the city’s cultural diversity.

The Jewish Heritage Month motion emphasizes the community’s deep roots in the city, noting that the first Jewish congregation in Canada, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, was established in Montreal in 1768, as well as its contributions to Montreal’s economic, cultural and institutional development.

In presenting the motion to council, Moroz, the Ensemble Montréal representative for Snowdon, said he hopes the heritage month will be an opportunity for Montrealers to learn that the Jewish community is not monolithic.

The differences within the community are not only cultural, but also political, Moroz indicated. He compared his grandfather, Boris Moroz, now 101, and the late Dr. Henry Morgentaler. Both were from Lodz, Poland, were close in age, and immigrated to Montreal.

Moroz became a builder and community leader; Morgentaler an abortion rights activist who was jailed. Despite their similar early backgrounds, the younger Moroz said, Morgentaler “did not believe in the State of Israel, my grandfather does… That’s the contradiction you can find in the Jewish community.”

The winning design for the new MHM, to be selected through an international competition, will be revealed in July. The first stage of the competition has concluded, and the jury announced the four finalists among 32 projects submitted anonymously from nine countries: Atelier TAG et L’OEUF architectes en consortium, Saucier+Perrotte Architectes, KPMB Architects + Daoust Lestage Lizotte Stecker, and Pelletier de Fontenay + NEUF architect(e)s.

The new museum will be constructed on a now vacant 20,000-square-foot lot.