Environment Minister Jim Prentice announced Thursday that Ottawa's Beechwood Cemetery will be designated a "national" cemetery.

"Establishing a national cemetery in Canada's capital will serve as an important symbol of Canadian unity and pride and a means of preserving and promoting Canada's rich history and our diversity," Prentice said.

Prentice held a news conference at the cemetery after tabling a bill in Parliament that outlined the plan.

By comparison, the U.S. has 128 national cemeteries, like Arlington near Washington.

The cemetery, already considered a National Historic Site, is currently home to the National Military Cemetery of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP Memorial Cemetery.

Former prime minister Sir Robert Borden is among the 75,000 Canadians buried there, as are Tommy Douglas and Sir Sandford Fleming.

Capt. Nichola Goddard, the first Canadian female soldier to be killed in combat, was also interred at Beechwood. She was killed in Afghanistan in 2006.

"By virtue of its location here in our national capital, Beechwood serves as a focal point for our national memorial events, including Remembrance Day, and it is an appropriate place to conduct state burials," Prentice said.

He called the announcement a "significant milestone in our collective history," and said the cemetery will serve as a fitting official resting place for "national leaders and other great Canadians."

Prentice said he was last at the sprawling cemetery for the burial of Goddard. During both visits, he said, he was touched by the beauty of the surroundings and "what a truly beautiful resting place this is."

Tim Goddard, father of Nichola Goddard, said the cemetery represents service and sacrifice.

"It seemed right she was there with others who have fallen in very similar circumstances."

According to Grete Hale, who is president of the Beechwood initiative, the cemetery will become a place for Canadians to come and celebrate their country and those who have served it.

"You know, I believe very deeply that Beechwood will become a place of pilgrimage for Canadians of all ages," she told CTV's Graham Richardson.