On the 78th anniversary of the allied invasion of Juno Beach in Normandy the Juno Beach Centre is facing a threat– encroachment of luxury beach houses, The centre had already been hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic as it was forced to shut down for several periods in the past two years. The federal government made a $500,000 cash rescue to keep the museum open and to help it get through the uncertainty of COVID. In an article in the Globe and Mail Monday, former CBC news anchor Peter Mansbridge writes, “the memorial sits on hallowed ground but that ground has also become prime commercial property, especially for luxury beachfront condominiums. A developer wants to hem the Juno Beach Centre in and take over the adjacent roadways for construction traffic, all seemingly with no interest in the history that could be bulldozed over.”
The Juno Beach Centre is Canada’s only Second World War museum and educational centre in Europe. It plays a vital role in commemorating those who served during the Second World War. The museum was designed by Burlington Architect Brian Chamberlain.
Built on 1.5 hectares of land, the JBC stands a monument to those Canadians who perished during the Normandy landings campaign. The JBC’s architecture draws from a range of different symbols important to Canada. In the shape of a pentagon, the five points of the building are important as they symbolize the five points of the maple leaf (a national Canadian symbol). The JBC was also shares a similar shape with the Order of Canada, a medal awarded to Canadian individuals in recognition for their achievement and service to this nation. The use of a five pointed shape also pays homage to the five Normandy beaches that were involved in the D-Day Landings of 1944; Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. Additionally, the JBC also mimics the shape of a pinwheel, with the five sloping points, represents a sense of movement.
Construction of the Juno Beach Centre began on 6 June 2002 and took just a year to complete. Chamberlain Architect Services worked with 41 different companies to complete the Juno Beach Centre, in which 33 were native to Normandy. On 6 June 2003 the Juno Beach Centre officially opened with a special ceremony attended by Canadian and French dignitaries including Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien.
COVID-19 has negatively impacted the number of visitors to the Juno Beach Centre in France. Without its visitor revenue, the organization is experiencing financial hardship. In its last full year of operation the museum attracted over 100,000 visitors.
There is another piece of Canada near the Juno Beach Centre–The former Hoffer House. No matter whether you were watching Canadian, American or British newsreels of D-Day; one of the most iconic film clips that was frequently seen shows Canadian soldiers huddled behind the gate of a landing craft as it approaches the French shore. The gate lowers and the soldiers jump into the water and wade ashore. In the background we see a row of houses. One of them still stands today—it is the former Hoffer family home, and is also known as Canada House.
On D Day there was fighting inside the Hoffer house, as Canadians cleared the building of enemy troops. A veteran, who returned to visit in 2009, left this message in Hoffer’s guest book: “Ernie Kells, Queen’s Own Rifles — one of five soldiers who arrived at this house on D-Day, now 84 years old. Sorry about throwing grenades into your cellar.” It took several years for the home to be rebuilt after the war, and Herve Hoffer took it over after his grandfather died. In 1984, as the fortieth anniversary of D-Day grew closer, the family noticed that more Canadian veterans were coming to revisit the place that had been such a pivotal part of their lives. The Hoffers welcomed them, every time.
The last Hoffer died in January 2017, leaving the house and its artifacts to his wife and children, and in the care of L’Association la Maison des Canadiens, a private organization dedicated to the maintenance of the house and its role in Canadian remembrance.