Special to The Lake Report
Tucked away off Read Road on the western fringe of Niagara-on-the-Lake is the 9/11 Memorial Park, one of the only parks in the country dedicated to the Canadian victims of the terrorist attack in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
A St. Catharines man named Rudy Behring was the impetus behind the park’s creation.
He was a rhododendron specialist who is credited with providing the rhododendrons for a garden on the Brock University campus and for establishing the rhododendron garden on the grounds of Happy Rolph’s Bird Sanctuary in 1978.
In March 2002, he approached St. Catharines city council with the idea of turning the area of the bird sanctuary, which fronts on Lake Ontario, into a memorial to Canadian victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
On Feb. 24, 2003, council was informed Behring had already found numerous financial contributors to the project and it approved a design that called for a tree to be planted beside a brass plaque bearing each victim’s name, age and a short account of where they were that day.
The park was dedicated on June 6, 2006, and a plaque beneath a flagpole where the Canadian flag is permanently at half-staff lists the many entities which contributed to its construction.
Among them are Algoma Central, the Bank of Montreal, Bell Canada, Enbridge, Fairview Mall, Mori Nurseries, as well as Rudy Behring.
Flanking the plaque are benches and behind it is a tree with the label “Tree of Peace.” On either side of the gravel walkway are the 27 plaques and next to them are the trees, each labelled with its Latin name and its age when planted.
Three of the people commemorated were on airplanes that day. LeRoy Home was the co-pilot on United Airlines flight 93, which crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pa. Alex Filipou was on American Airlines flight 11, which hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, while Garnet (Ace) Baley was on United Airlines flight 175, which crashed into the South Tower.
The plaques for Christine Egan, aged 55, and for her brother Michael, four years younger, are near each other on opposite sides of the walkway. Christine was visiting her brother, who worked on the 100th floor of the South Tower.
Also near each other are plaques for Meredith Ewart, 29, born in Montreal, and her husband Peter Feidelberg, 34, also born in Montreal. They both worked on the 104th floor of the South Tower.
When I visited the 9/11 Memorial Park on a sunny day in September 2021, the sky was a crystal clear blue like that of Sept. 11, 2001.
People were sitting on the benches, basking in the sun, contemplating the beautiful view across Lake Ontario at the skyline of Toronto. Sailboats were sweeping by in the Port Weller Cove.
Family groups with children chattering were entering the park but as soon as their parents hushed them, they became quiet.
The school-age children showed off their prowess by slowly reading aloud the names and ages on the plaques to their younger siblings.
One plaque, honouring Cynthia Connolly, who was born in Montreal and worked on the 104th floor of the South Tower, had a bouquet of flowers by it.
I cannot help but think that the families of the Canadians who lost their lives on that sad day are pleased that their loved ones have been remembered in a beautifully designed and well cared for park on the edge of Lake Ontario.
HOW TO GET THERE: Turn north off Lakeshore Road onto Read Road and park in the lot beside Happy Rolph’s Animal Farm. Walk north along Read toward Lake Ontario. Read Road is the boundary between Niagara-on-the-Lake on your right and St. Catharines to your left.
When you reach the end of the road, to your left will be two trails. The lower paved waterfront trail will take you along the Lake Ontario shoreline. If you choose the upper gravel path, you will find the 9/11 Memorial Park.