Let me say up front that I like cemeteries. You can visit the famous, bone up on your history, enjoy a quiet walk, take in architectural details and read up on other people’s lives.
So I was quite pleased to receive a copy of ‘Sacred Ground / On De La Savane -Montreal’s Baron de Hirsch Cemetery‘ by Danny Kucharsky and published by Vehicule Press.
Mainly historical, Sacred Ground looks at 100 years of existence of the Baron de Hirsch cemetery in Montreal. Giving a brief but overall look at the Jewish presence in Montreal we read that the first Jewish cemetery was established in 1775 although the first person to be buried there was in 1776 was a gentleman named Lazarus David, who had originally purchased the land and created the cemetery.
The book provides biographies of some of the more famous inhabitants on the grounds including the Yiddish poet Jacob Issac Segal , the ‘Princess of Yiddish Literature’ Rachel Korn as well as a writer well known throughout the rest of Canada, A. M. Klein.
The book republishes a sampling of obituaries collected by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Ottawa. They range from the straightforward “He drowned in Cartierville” to the intriguing “The twenty-seven-year-old Clark Street resident was mistaken for a bank robber and shot by a police detective. He was employed by the Canadian Hat Manufacturing Co. as a designer. He came to Canada seven years ago.” One of the oddest is “Strean, the “longtime president of Chevra Shaas congregation”. and “prominent contributor to the Jewish community…died as a result of unjust criticism by a small group of Chevra Shaas member.”
Examples of headstone inscriptions are also given, my favourite being ‘A truly unusual man” for the simplicity and forthrightness of the words.
The book is illustrated with photographs by D. R Cowles. A few photographs are scattered through the book but a small portfolio is located in the centre of the volume. Tinted and printed on a better quality of paper stock the photographs are both beautiful and haunting. They do suffer from the small format of the book but are a welcome addition.