By Perry Lefko
I have been to the International Centre in Mississauga for numerous events, some for work, others just for pleasure. But it’s one thing to go to the multi-functional facility for trade shows and conferences; it’s quite another to be there for a funeral.
On Dec. 21, the International Centre, which has been a fixture in Mississauga since 1972, became the venue for the funeral of Barry and Honey Sherman, whose deaths four days before gripped Toronto and, to a larger extent, the world.
Barry Sherman was the head of pharmaceutical giant, Apotex, and one of Canada’s richest individuals with a net worth of more than $4 billion. He had recently been made aware he had been appointed to the Order of Canada. He was regarded for his tenacity as a businessman, in particular developing drugs to help infirm individuals. Honey was a tireless worker, in terms of giving of herself to charitable causes, as well as a devoted mother, grandmother and sister.
Collectively they were philanthropists to many individuals, organizations, the City of Toronto, the Province of Ontario, Canada and other countries, which was why their deaths by ligature neck compression seemed so bizarre. He was 75, she was 71. There were initial reports of a murder/suicide, but the family disputed that and expressed anger with police and the media for suggesting the possibility.
Because the Shermans are both Jewish, one would have thought the service would have taken place in a synagogue. According to reports, Barry Sherman was an atheist without any connection to a local temple. Benjamin’s Park Memorial Chapel, which is in the business of handling Jewish funerals, handled all the arrangements. This would mark the first time they had overseen a funeral at the International Centre. Aspects of the funeral had Jewish ceremonial customs – yarmulkes and bowls with water and a cup to rinse your hands after the service. There was also a rabbi administering the service, a cantor signing Hebrew psalms and prayers, and a closed casket, another Jewish service tradition.
Given its magnitude and an expectation of an audience numbering in the thousands, there would have been no Jewish synagogue capable of handling the of service. I was told the International Centre was chosen because it could accommodate a large gathering, had ample parking and is a geographically central location for Apotex workers, many of whom came wearing the company’s blue-themed colour.
As I sat there in the crowd, I couldn’t help but feel strange. I have attended cars shows, golf shows, travel shows, home shows and various other events at the International Centre, but this was a funeral. It just seemed so surreal. The crowd was estimated at about 7,000 and video monitors were set up to display the memorial speakers, which included Sherman family members, their friends and business associates, Toronto Mayor John Tory, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Senator Linda Frum. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also attended the event because he was such a close friend of the Shermans. It said something about the magnitude of Barry and Honey. Trudeau didn’t speak at the memorial, although he was quoted by many media outlets about his profound respect for the Shermans and his sadness about their untimely deaths.
According to news reports, Barry Sherman organized a political fundraiser for Trudeau, one that was under investigation for breaking the rules under federal lobbying laws. Furthermore, there were reports Sherman filed a lawsuit to quash the investigation.
This wasn’t the first memorial service ever held at the centre, but never something of this magnitude and scope. TV cameras mounted outside and inside the service were broadcasting live and made available on Internet portals that could be seen around the world. This was a funeral of epic proportions.
I attended because I knew someone who knew the Shermans. But I also wanted to be there because, in the Jewish faith, it is considered a mitzvah – a good deed – to do something like this. It’s all about paying your respects. There will likely never be another held at the International Centre, at least one that sparks this type of media coverage.