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Photo by Keith Levit

Gail Asper at the opening of the CMHR
Photo by Leor Rotchild Producer, Worldviews Project

Robert Duerksen, P.Eng., Construction Manager, PCL Constructors Canada

Grant Van Iderstine, MAA, OAA, SAA, MRAIC Practice Leader, Architecture 49

Editor's Report: On the Scene at the Inaugural Opening of the Canadian Human Rights Museum

By Rhonda Spivak, January 21, 2015






[Editor's note: I have often wondered what it was that contributed to Gail Asper's fortitude and unstoppable drive to turn her father's dream of a Canadian Human Rights  Museum into a reality, notwithstanding significant obstacles. In this regard, I point readers to an article which sheds some insight on this very point  in the Vancouver Jewish Independent (,)  written by Rebecca Kuropatwa about the book launch of "Miracle at the Forks: The Museum that Dares Make a Difference co-authored by Peter C Newman and Allan Levine. According to that article, Gail Asper spoke of learning the value of perseverance from her father, and said "…the bottom line is, if you keep trying, the perseverance will pay off somewhere.”




As Kuropatwa's article relates, Levine after he finished reading the first book excerpt said "Gail was instructed by her father that she was to dedicate half her day, every day, to the museum."




The Winnipeg Jewish Review spoke to Levine who quoted from a letter Izzy Asper wrote to his daughter in April 2003: ‘You must get up and end every day by asking “what did I achieve in finding 60 million needed from the private sector for the museum?” You are not to take any calls, answer any letters, or have any meetings with people who are seeking donations from the Asper Foundation. That is Moe’s job, and not to be duplicated.




‘I’m spelling all of this out because this is your opportunity to prove that you can act like a senior executive and not to be distracted by everything that happens to go by. I hope you can exercise the focus and discipline outlined above.




“Believe me, this is the way I’ve operated all my life and, in my opinion, the only way you can accomplish things that everyone thinks can’t be done.”




It would appear that Gail Asper indeed followed her father’s instructions as outlined in his letter.]








Some four months after April 17, 2003 when he participated in the ground breaking ceremony for the Canadian Human Rights Museum in on a gravel parking lot at the Forks, Izzy Asper, the visionary behind the idea of the CMHR passed away.




At the opening of the CMHR on Sept 19, 2014   before some 850 invited guests, Gail Asper, who has been the pivotal and driving force behind the museum project, referring to the museum as “a miracle." She said that with her father's passing "Our family had a huge decision to make-to continue with this project or abandon it. We decided to carry on as our father would have wanted."




Gail Asper further noted that it was unfortunate that both her father and her mother Babs, who passed away some three years ago, could not be there to see the opening of the CMHR. "It pains me my father and mother are not here to join us."




Leonard Asper echoed this same sentiment to the Winnipeg Jewish Review noting that since his parents were not alive to see the opening of the CMHR it was "a bittersweet moment."




As he said, "On the selfish side, I wish my parents were here to see it, But what a great thing for Canada. Outside of Winnipeg people are talking about it. It creates an economic engine for Winnipeg. It's put Winnipeg on the map. It's going to serve the purpose of educating the world. The bad guys always have weapons [including weapons of mass destruction]…The good people need a weapon of mass education. This museum will serve as such a weapon. It's amazing it's in Winnipeg."




David Asper, Chair of The Asper Foundation said “The tangible aspect of the project comes with our announcement of the pilot project that will eventually bring thousands of Canadian students to Winnipeg each year as part of the Asper Foundation Human Rights and Holocaust Education program. This drives not just knowledge and hopefully activism, but also real economic benefits to Manitoba and an extension of brand Winnipeg which has been an essential aspect of the business case underlying the project.”




Gail who spearheaded one of the biggest fundraising campaigns in Canadian history to get the museum built, said in her remarks at the opening "Our father saw what no one else could see," adding that "He viewed a human rights museum right here in his beloved city as an agent for change in Canada and the world..."




She received a standing ovation after paying an emotional tribute to her late father and all those who made his vision of building a "beacon of hope."




"I was privileged with the adventure of a lifetime," she told the crowd. "This is for all of you."




Gail also spoke about Moe Levy's contribution to the building of the Museum. "I have been privileged to work with Moe over the past 14 years as he went about convincing people what a museum such as this might become."




Asper also recognized the efforts of her brothers David and Leonard, and thanked her husband Mike Paterson and sons Stephen and Jonathon for their ongoing support over this 14 year journey. She praised Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his decision seven years ago to accept the museum as a national museum, thereby committing the Federal government to funding its ongoing operating costs.




Shelley Glover, Minister for Canadian Heritage and Official languages and MP for St Boniface said she was "proud to say that through the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper the Federal government is a key partner in this project.





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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.