Welcome to Our New Website!

Welcome to the Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre's new and improved website! This website includes several exciting new features, most notably a searchable online database of archival descriptions and an interactive map of Jewish neighbourhoods. Visitors to this site can now access over 25,000 entries describing the records in the holdings of the OJA, including textual records, photographs, videos, architectural drawings, objects, oral histories and more.

This dynamic and engaging website is suitable for all levels of cultural exploration, from in-depth scholarly research to casual browsing. OJA Director Dara Solomon says, “One of the most important goals of this project was to make the incredible collections of the OJA accessible to everyone—our grandparents, our school-aged children, and of course, the scholars of Ontario’s Jewish history and heritage. This goal was kept in mind throughout the project’s development and is obvious in its design, easy-to-use navigation, and browseable content.” The website boasts a streamlined design and search functionality, allowing users to quickly and easily access the OJA’s diverse range of records documenting Jewish heritage in Ontario. Nearly 4,000 photographs and dozens of oral history and film clips are accessible through the site.

Curated content in the website’s themed section highlights historically significant people (artists, community leaders), organizations and topics, such as architect Benjamin Brown, Jewish Immigrant Aid Services (JIAS), and anti-Semitism. This section tells the stories of the community’s history in accessible language and showcases archival material such as hand written letters, speeches, drawings, and photographs.

The Online Exhibitions section celebrates the OJA’s award-winning cultural displays from its 40-year history and provides even further access into the depths of the organization’s archival records. These exhibitions include Toronto’s First Synagogues and Ontario’s Small Jewish Communities. Plus, the groundbreaking Landmarks feature allows users to search for significant building sites on an interactive map of the province and to learn through text, photographs and oral history clips about Toronto’s Jewish built heritage. The website will premiere with the sites of Kensington Market, and other neighbourhoods and Jewish centres will be added over time. The design is mobile-friendly, meaning that visitors to the site can explore Jewish heritage from wherever they choose and on any device. Whether you are at the day school or the synagogue, the community centre or camp, or just walking down a street, the province’s Jewish history is at your fingertips.

The creation of the OJA’s new website was made possible through funding provided by the Government of Ontario. Additional funding was provided by a group of generous community supporters.

With the launch of this website, the Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre becomes the central portal for Jewish heritage in Ontario, bringing the community together through meaningful dialogue about a shared past and providing scholars and academics from around the world with access to the rare textual and graphic material documenting this province’s rich Jewish history. OJA Director, “We are absolutely thrilled to make the richness of the OJA collection accessible through this innovative and engaging website. We hope to make the diversity of the Ontario Jewish experience relevant for a 21st century audience and to encourage visitors to the website to consider their own pasts and to contribute their voices to this ongoing story.”

Research at the OJA

Photo by M. Blampied. Courtesy of Thomas Blampied.
Photo by M. Blampied. Courtesy of Thomas Blampied.

The OJA answers approximately 400 research requests each year. Our researchers are as diverse as our holdings and include academics, genealogists, students, filmmakers, popular historians, veterans, professionals, and curiosity seekers. Some research requests are relatively quick and easy to address but some researchers have complicated information needs that require the use of multiple collections and a lengthy stay at the OJA. One such recent researcher was Thomas Blampied.

Thomas is currently a student at the University of York in the United Kingdom where he is pursuing a BA in History. He is also an author and photographer. In addition to Jewish history, he focuses primarily on 20th century world history. He also specializes in rail transportation, has published three books on Ontario railways and is currently writing a fourth. His railway photographs have been published on three continents. Thomas recently spent three weeks at the OJA researching the Toronto Jewish community. Of his experience at the OJA, Thomas writes:

Thanks to the records at the OJA, notably the United Jewish Welfare Fund fonds (UJWF), the Zionist Organization of Canada fonds (ZOC) and the papers of Morrie Latchman, I was able to complete the bulk of the research for my undergraduate dissertation. My research project, The Transformation of Jewish Identity in Toronto: 1948-1975, examines how events in Toronto and in Israel influenced fundraising and identity in Toronto's Jewish community.

This period saw important changes in Jewish identity. The creation of the State of Israel and its subsequent challenges (such as the Suez Crisis, 1967 and 1973 wars and increasing immigration) were very important issues for Jews in Toronto. In Toronto itself, the persistence of far-right activists, the increase in Christian missionaries and the introduction of multicultural policies affected the Jewish community and redefined Jewish identity.

Starting with the United Jewish Appeal in 1948, the fundraising allocations for local welfare causes and Israeli development were nearly equally divided. Over time, this division began to change and by the mid 1970s, the allocation was strongly weighted towards the survival and development of the State of Israel, reaching its most dramatic point in 1974, when over 80% of the donations were allocated to Israel. By charting this trend through the fundraising and allocation records held at the OJA, I was able to identify major changes in priorities (and likely in identity) based on changes in the amount of money raised and how it was allocated. This in turn helped to indicate which events triggered these changes. My work has found a definite shift towards Israel, but also a complicated balance between helping Israel and looking after the community in Toronto. My completed dissertation is due to be submitted in the Spring of 2014.

Labor Lyceum Heritage Plaquing Event

Last Wednesday evening, with a crowd of about 100 people, Heritage Toronto in partnership with UJA Federation’s Ontario Jewish Archives unveiled a new Heritage Toronto plaque for the Labor Lyceum, the epicentre of political activism for Toronto’s textile workers from the 1920s through the 1960s. J.B. Salsberg, a lifelong labour activist, wrote that “no single institution and no single building on Spadina – the main street of Jewish Toronto – was more important in the refashioning of the Jewish immigrant into an actively involved Canadian Jew” than was the Labor Lyceum.

The plaque will be installed at the southwest corner of Spadina and St. Andrew. Due to the rain, the event was held inside the beautiful “Minsker” synagogue. Remarks were made by OJA chair Eric Slavens who previously served on the board of Heritage Toronto where he initiated the Jewish plaquing initiative and raised the funds to make it possible.

Toronto city council member Adam Vaughan reminisced about his early days as a councilor when former city councilor Howard Moscoe drove him up Bathurst to see the current-day shuls and then took him down to the Market to show him where the community originated. MPP Mike Colle spoke about the significance of Jewish Heritage Month.

Attendees in front of the Anshei Minsk Synagogue, May 22. 2013

Guest speaker Harry Arthurs, former dean of Osgoode Law School, labour historian, and grandson of Henry Dworkin, founder of the Labor Lyceum, spoke eloquently about the role his grandfather, an enterprising businessman, played in the community. The Dworkin Travel agency helped bring hundreds of Jewish immigrants to Toronto from the looming dangers of Europe. Additionally, Dworkin along with his partner Sam Easser, encouraged garment union workers to purchase shares for the construction of the Labor Lyceum Association at five dollars each. In 1924, the Association purchased two houses at 344 and 246 Spadina Avenue. Five years later, they added meeting rooms. In addition to the labour activity, the seasonal nature of the textile industry meant that workers could socialize and strategize at the Labor Lyceum during slow work periods.

The plaque commemoration was followed by the Ontario Jewish Archives’ Sense of Spadina tour that focused on the role Jews played in the garment district and union movement. Participants enjoyed seeing the sites of the former Jewish neighbourhood and learning about Toronto Jewish life in the Kensington Market area. Sign up for an upcoming public tour!

Toronto's First Israel Day Parade Through the Lens of Dr. John E. Ackerman

Photo courtesy David Ackerman.

Ackerman family, ca. 1937.

Photo courtesy David Ackerman.

The OJA recently acquired hundreds of photographs and films taken by Dr. John Ackerman (1921-2008). Born in Toronto to Jacob and Mindel Ackerman, Dr. Ackerman took up photography as a hobby in his teens. In 1939, he won a photo contest during the visit of King George VI by capturing a winning shot of the royal. With the prize money he purchased a better camera and darkroom supplies. Although he later became a dentist, he remained passionate about photography throughout his life and brought his camera with him, it seems, everywhere he went. For over 60 years he photographed family and community events, his neighborhood near Dundas and Elizabeth Street, trips to popular summer destinations such as Crystal Beach and Belle Ewart, his parent’s grocery store business, and his time in the Canadian military.

Ontario Jewish Archives, accession 2012-9/7.

Ackerman, ca. 1944.

Ontario Jewish Archives, accession 2012-9/7.

Included among these remarkable photographs are rare images of Toronto’s first Israel parade, which took place on Sunday May 16, 1948 – two days after David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s Independence. The parade, sponsored by the United Zionist Council of Toronto, was both a celebration of Israel’s formation and a demonstration asking Canada to recognize the Jewish state and help it become a member of the United Nations. Dr. Ackerman was among the estimated 20,000 people who took part in this historic celebration, which moved along College Street to Maple Leaf Gardens where it culminated in a massive rally. The photos Dr. Ackerman took on this day are not only remarkable for their professional quality and composition, but also because the range of photographs he took (over 25 images) capture various facets of the day.

Ontario Jewish Archives, accession 2013-4/6.

Toronto parade for Israel, 1948.

Ontario Jewish Archives, accession 2013-4/6.

Looking through the images one is struck by the parade’s massive scale. Throngs of people can be seen not only taking part in the parade, but also lining the streets and watching from the windows of nearby buildings. Also seen is the large range of Jewish organizations that took part, including B’nai Brith, United Jewish Peoples Order, the Jewish Folk School, and a group of veterans who fought in Palestine during the First World War.

Ontario Jewish Archives, accession 2013-4/6.

Toronto parade for Israel, 1948.

Ontario Jewish Archives, accession 2013-4/6.

The photos capture the sense of excitement and pride felt by the community after its 2,000 year long struggle for a Jewish state: Israeli flags are seen displayed in the windows of Jewish owned shops, a man enthusiastically waves the newspaper announcement towards Dr. Ackerman’s camera, a marching band performs for onlookers, a truck used by S. Mirsky for his moving business is seen outfitted for the occasion with loud speakers and signs of jubilee, and both young and old community members can be spotted celebrating together. Taken together, these images bring to life the parade’s sights, sounds, and general atmosphere of celebration. This group of photos is a major acquisition for the Ontario Jewish Archives, as it documents the local response to an event of global significance.

Today, Toronto’s Jewish community continues to rally together in support of Israel in UJA Federation’s annual Walk With Israel. The Walk, which takes place this year on May 26th, raises funds to sustain UJA’s social welfare and educational programs in the state and provide aid to vulnerable regions. The photos Dr. Ackerman captured 65 years ago, serve as a reminder of the community’s continuing solidarity with Israel. Register here for this year’s walk: https://walkwithisrael.com/

Remembering Syd Wise at the Ontario Jewish Archives

For fifteen years, the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Ontario Jewish Archives had the honour of working with a committed and charming volunteer named Dr. Syd Wise who passed away peacefully at North York General on January 31st at age 97. Dr. Wise was a pediatrician in Toronto for over six decades, taking care of thousands of children over multiple generations. He set up his practice in the late 1940s after returning to Toronto from serving in the U.S military during the Second World War. Regularly bumping into his grown up former patients, he would say, “That’s one of my babies.”

OJA Archivist George Wharton who manages the volunteers recalls, “I’ll always remember Syd and his accomplishments while volunteering at the OJA for two reasons. Of course his phenomenal memories of the faces and lives of three generations of the Toronto Jewish community made him our finest and most treasured single font of information about Toronto Jewry. But just as important were his constantly-displayed charm, wit, modesty and caring concern. It was a privilege to have worked with him.”

Archivist Donna Bernardo-Ceriz describes the joy of working with Syd, “He had the most incredible memory. He was able to identify people in photos that were more than 50 years old. To me, this was another example of how Syd truly cared for the people he met during his life. He was genuinely interested in your story and would remember you years later.” Ellen Scheinberg, the OJA’s former director echoes that sentiment, “…His expertise was indispensable and his enthusiasm and commitment to the volunteer group and Archives was greatly appreciated... He was a special individual who will be dearly missed.”

Ontario Jewish Archives, accession 2010-5/2.

Syd Wise (left) and his siblings in front of their father Anshel Wise's cigar store and "steamship office" at 100 Dundas Street West, 1922.

Ontario Jewish Archives, accession 2010-5/2.

Unfortunately, I only had the opportunity to know Syd for a short period after joining the OJA last May as the new director. However, I have since learned a great deal about him—and through his story—about Jewish life in Toronto. Over the years, Syd donated many personal records related to the family. There are photos of Syd as a young boy at Camp Yungvelt and photos of Mimi cooking cabbage rolls for the Hadassah Bazaar. Syd also donated records related to his father, Anshel Wise’s business, a cigar store and steamship agency, which helped bring thousands of immigrants to Canada in the 1920s.

Though Syd will be missed dearly by all of us, his legacy will live on at the Ontario Jewish Archives.

—Dara Solomon
Director, Ontario Jewish Archives

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