I’m familiar with Mount Sinai Memorial Park. Most members of my family are buried there and it will be my final resting place. It is located on Wilson Avenue west of Keele Street south of Downsview Park.
In the rear section of the cemetery is the burial ground of Canadian Jewish War Veterans, the graves of some 300 service men and women who fought and died for their country in both the first and second world wars. The war vets are buried at the north side of the cemetery abutting the Downsview lands.
Downsview Park resulted from an election promise of the Liberal government during the Federal election of 1999 -Liberals like to promise parks. It was the land from the decommissioned CFB Downsview. Of the some 295 acres of land released, only about 65 acres are actually park. The balance will be sold off for redevelopment under the supervision of Canada Lands, a federal agency.
The first area to be re-developed was Stanley Greene, an area of what used to be base housing for enlisted men and their families. It was just next to the Veterans’ graves. Stanley Greene was to be replaced with a massive town house development
Phil Grenfell, the manager of the Mount Sinai Cemetery told me. “The trouble began when they tore out the base housing and the sewage system was ripped out.”
Water began to seep southward, filling the graves. The level of the land for construction had been raised about 4 feet and that added to the drainage problem. “I’ve been here for twenty six years. Our cemetery has a sweeping tile system. We’ve never had a drainage problem before,” he said.
Al Rubin, president of the Jewish Canadian Veterans’ Memorial Park Association told me that they discovered the problem when they dug a grave and the water rose to above the level of a coffin. The cemetery now has to pump out a grave before the funeral arrives and return the soil to the grave quickly before the water is visible. Several open graves have collapsed. The Association has had a number of meetings with Canada Lands and there are two City of Toronto Inspectors directly involved who are not going to approve the subdivision until the drainage is fixed. In the end Canada Lands as a Federal Agency can ignore the city inspectors if they so choose. In Canada, a government has no jurisdiction over an order of government above it.
“I can assure you that we are not taking this lightly,” said Al Ruben
My Uncle Joe Moscoe is buried in Mt Sinai Memorial Park. He was captured in the Dieppe Raid and spent four years in a German prisoner of war camp, Stalag VIIIB. Joe was president of the General Wingate Branch of the Canadian Legion. Every year in late August just before Yom Kippur, the legion would lead a grand parade of veterans to a memorial service at the Jewish Veterans’ War Memorial. Each year the parade would get just a little smaller as the veterans aged and died off. On August 10th, 2008, a week before the parade and memorial service, the Sunrise propane explosion occurred on Murray Road just to the west of the cemetery. The parade was cancelled. It never happened again. It’s as if the vets moved off the parade route into their graves.
Maria Augimeri, the local councillor, is dismayed about the Canada Lands handling of the situation. “They’ve shown a real contempt,” she said. “The veterans deserve better than a watery grave. Where’s the respect?”