A New Director Joins the OJA

I am absolutely delighted to join the Ontario Jewish Archives as Director and to introduce myself to both the Jewish communities of Ontario and to the national and international networks of archives. I look forward to guiding this extraordinary organization into the next chapter of its distinguished history. After living away from Toronto for close to thirteen years, I am thrilled to return to a vibrant cosmopolitan city alive with thriving cultural institutions of all shapes and sizes, neighbourhoods with distinctive character, and delicious restaurants!

Throughout my career, I have been committed to engaging audiences with stories that present multiple perspectives on Jewish culture, tradition, and history. Working with artists, scholars, students, archivists, and collectors, I create experiences that make Jewish values and ideas relevant and accessible to audiences of all ages and backgrounds. I look forward to bringing these skills to the OJA, an institution that is bursting with stories waiting to be told. Over my first few weeks here, I have had the pleasure (with the support of my crackerjack team of archivists—Donna Bernardo-Ceriz, Melissa Caza, and George Wharton) of discovering some of these stories. Not only have I learned so much about the foundation of the Jewish community but also about the building of the City of Toronto, the province of Ontario, and even about my own family. The OJA is rich in legends, mysteries, tales, and a few bubbe-meise and I look forward to sharing them with you.

I plan to start connecting audiences with a selection from our archives right away through a newly launched Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/OntarioJewishArchives. I invite you to join me as I explore the Archives. I will regularly post photos, video, and other records along with comments and questions so you too can engage with the material and learn something new. And, I want to create a dialogue so please add your own photos and comments. And, remember, we do want to collect these stories in the Archives, not just online. If you are interested in donating materials, please contact us: oja1@ujafed.org.

I look forward to creating exhibitions on all of the UJA’s campuses and in other venues that further explore the collection and engage visitors in unexpected and surprising ways. I plan to invite visual artists and writers to create new works of art inspired by items in the Archives.

Another one of my goals is to strengthen the collection and fill in the existing gaps. We definitely need more documentation from the recent past, 1970s to the present and I want to make sure that the Archives represents both affiliated and unaffiliated members of the community. I plan to reach out to the Day Schools, the Sephardic community, the various summer camps, the gay and lesbian community, the synagogues, the creative community, and the youth and student organizations that are all so central to the Jewish experience in Ontario. These partnerships with the OJA are so important in preserving the community’s stories but also in making them more accessible to a wide range of users.

This is the moment to transform the OJA into a dynamic resource that reflects both the past and the present and that fully embraces the unlimited potential of today’s technology. I hope you will join us at the OJA to learn more about the past and the present. Our stories are your stories!

Dara Solomon
Director, Ontario Jewish Archives

Harbord Collegiate Celebrates 120 Years with Wayne and Shuster

On April 27, Heritage Toronto unveiled a legacy plaque at the 120th anniversary celebrations of Harbord Collegiate in Toronto. The plaque specifically honours comedians Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster, who met in 1930 in their Grade 10 class at Harbord and then went on to study English literature at the University of Toronto.

Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 73, series 2, file 5.

University College Follies program, 1938.

Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 73, series 2, file 5.

Johnny Wayne (1918-1990) was born Louis Weingarten in Toronto to Sarah and Charles Byron Weingarten. He was married to Beatrice Lokash and they had three children: Michael, Jamie and Brian. Frank Shuster (1916-2002) was born to Bess and Jack Shuster in Toronto but also lived in Niagara Falls where Jack Shuster ran the local Colonial Theatre. Married in 1947, Frank and his wife Ruth Burstyn had two children: Rosalind and Steve. Notably, Frank's cousin Joe Shuster was one of the creators behind the famous Superman comic character.

Both Wayne and Shuster were active in dramatics as high school students, and later as university students with the Beta Sigma Rho fraternity. In 1941, while still in school, Wayne and Shuster created their first show for CFRB radio, titled Wife Preservers. It was followed shortly thereafter by their hit comedy show, The Wayne and Shuster Show, on CBC's Trans-Canada Network. In 1942, the two men joined the Canadian infantry and brought their Army Show to different military bases across Canada. They took the show to Normandy after D-Day and wrote a 52 week series for veterans.

Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 22, series 3, file 25.

Radio script from the Wayne and Shuster show, March 1952.

Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 22, series 3, file 25.

Following the war, the Wayne and Shuster Show returned to CBC radio and went on to become a much beloved program, earning the men a national audience. The half-hour radio program was broadcast live at 9:30pm on Thursday evenings. The show often featured comedic spoofs on classical plays and literature and was therefore described as "literary slapstick." Wayne and Shuster performed alongside co-stars Eric Christmas, Terry Dale, Herb May and several other guest comedians. The show was produced by Jackie Rae and Samuel Hershenhoren provided the music. The radio program ran until 1954, at which point Wayne and Shuster began to produce hour-long specials on CBC television. In 1958, they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in the United States and in fact, became a regular feature, breaking the record for the number of appearances by any one guest. In 1999, Wayne and Shuster were inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame.

Wayne and Shuster make an appearance in a number of the OJA's collections. A small selection of radio scripts from the Wayne and Shuster show are contained within the Morris Norman fonds. The pair are also found in the Beta Sigma Rho Fraternity fonds, the Al Gilbert fonds and a number of smaller family collections.

May declared Jewish Heritage Month by the Ontario Legislature

Ontario Jewish Archives, item 1230.

Shumer and Geldzaeler families, ca. 1895.

Ontario Jewish Archives, item 1230.

On February 23, 2012, the Ontario Legislature passed Bill 17, making the month of May Jewish Heritage Month in the province. The Bill was presented by Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle and co-sponsored by Thornhill MPP Peter Shurman and Parkdale-High Park MPP Cheri DiNovo. The Ontario Jewish Archives was in support of the bill and provided research assistance to Mike Colle's office by highlighting some important historical figures and organizations in the developement of Ontario's thriving Jewish community.

The bill recognizes the long and significant history of Ontario Jewry in the province. According to Irving Abella's A Coat of Many Colours, Moses David was the first practicing Jew to permanently settle in Upper Canada in 1803, in what is now Windsor, Ontario. Yet, it wasn't until the 1830s that Jewish settlements and communities in Ontario began to grow and by the 1850s, the Jewish population in Toronto was significant enough to warrent the formation of the Province's first synagogue: the Toronto Hebrew Congregation, now known as Holy Blossom Temple.

Although individuals have played an important role in the development of Ontario, it is the collective strength of the Jewish community that has allowed it to flourish into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, especially during times systematic discrimination and antisemitism. Now thanks to the Ontario Government, this collectivity will be at the forefront every May as we celebrate what has been a remarkable two hundred years of Jewish communal development.

Digitization of the Shields Family Films

Through the generosity of Mel and Lorne Shields, the OJA has completed digitizing its collection of the Shields family’s home movies. Mel and Lorne’s parents, Harry and Esther Shields, were married in Toronto in 1937. Harry owned a sportswear business called Shields Sportswear Ltd., which was located at 349 Queen Street West. Their family films offer a rare and vibrant glimpse of every day Jewish life in Toronto between 1937 and 1970, including footage of Lorne’s Bar Mitzvah at Beth Tzedec Synagogue, weddings from the 1930s, a family trip to Pontypool (a summer destination for many Toronto Jews), and clips of summer camps that were popular within the Jewish community, such as, Camp Rockwood and Camp Winnebagoe. The OJA is thrilled to make these films accessible to current and future generations and extends its warmest thanks to the Shields family for their generous support with this initiative.

The OJA has over 30 hours of home movie footage from the late 1920s to the 1970s documenting weddings, birthday parties, Bar Mitzvah’s, family vacations in Ontario and around the world, graduations, Toronto recreation and amusement, cottage life, and other every day family outings and activities. Please contact us if you would like to learn more about our home movie collection or if you have home movies of your own you'd like to donate.

Henry Cassel's War

As November marks a time for remembering war related stories of sacrifice and survival, the OJA is highlighting the life story of Henry Cassel (previously Heinz Kassel). Henry was a German refugee during the Second World War who was classified as an enemy alien by the British government. He spent two years in an internment camp for prisoners of war (POWs) in Quebec. He later became a naturalized Canadian citizen and enlisted in the Canadian military.

Heinz was born on October 25, 1912 in Aschaffenburg, Germany to Adolf and Olga Kassel. Adolf owned a successful banking business which he had inherited from his father. The family resided above the bank and lived a comfortable life during these early years. They moved to Frankfurt around 1920 after Adolf sold his business to buy a partnership in a bank there.

Heinz’s parents had hoped that he would one day become a corporate lawyer. In 1931, in preparation for his future career, he began studying law and economics at Frankfurt University. He enjoyed his initial university years. However, after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 he became alarmed when his non-Jewish university friends began ignoring him and when the German government passed laws forbidding Jews from practicing law in court. Determined to leave Germany and seek out a better life elsewhere, he begged his parents to immigrate with him to the United States. They refused to go, unwilling to leave behind the life they had worked so hard to build. In accordance with his parents’ wishes, Heinz relocated to nearby Italy instead of the US in 1934. He learned Italian and eventually secured a job with an engineering firm.

Sensing that the political climate in Italy was becoming dangerous for Jewish people, Heinz applied for immigration to the US in early 1939. Eager to leave Italy, he relocated to London to await the approval of his US visa. He left just in time – Britain declared war on Germany less than a week after his arrival. His parents, in turn, managed to escape to Holland. Soon after Britain’s declaration, all immigrants from enemy countries were considered enemy aliens and suspected of being spies.

On May 12, 1940, the British military arrested Heinz and interned him with other German immigrants and POWs. He believed his detainment was only a precautionary measure and that he would be cleared within a few days. However, the British shipped him to the Isle of Man where he remained for several months. Fearing an invasion, the British shipped 3,000 of the POWs, including Kassel, to Quebec, where he was briefly interned at a POW camp set up at the Plains of Abraham. In October 1940, he was moved with 736 other refugees to an abandoned railway yard (later known as “Camp N”) in Newington, near Sherbrooke, Quebec. While there, he confronted a great deal of anti-Semitism from the guards.

Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 93, file 8.

Cassel's internment headshot taken by Canadian officials soon after his arrival in Canada, 1940.

Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 93, file 8.

While he was interned in Quebec, the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) interviewed him and other Jewish prisoners in order to lobby for their release. Realizing that the internees were not POWs, the Canadian government declared the camp a refugee camp in 1941. By October 1942, the CJC was successful in helping Heinz secure employment with Benjamin Pape & Company in Toronto.

Heinz met Reta Freeman in Toronto and they were married in November 1944. Reta was born and raised in Toronto. After their nuptials, they were both briefly classified as enemy aliens and had to report to the RCMP on a regular basis. Shortly thereafter, Heinz enlisted in the Royal Canadian Army and was sent to basic training in Manitoba. On January 21, 1946 he was granted landed immigrant status, and in April of that year, he became a citizen.

After the war, Heinz learned that his parents as well as other relatives had been transported to concentration camps and had not survived. He was certainly one of the few fortunate ones to leave the country, despite the circumstances of his removal. He resented being interned for so long, but did not blame the British for rounding him up with other Germans based on their initial fears regarding enemy aliens. His feelings about Canada's treatment of him during that time, however, were not as sympathetic. Reta passed away in August 1962 and Henry later remarried Esther Cassel. He passed away at the age of 96 in February 2009.

The records of Henry Cassel were donated to the Archives by his sons, Andrew and Richard. The collection documents his family and personal life as well as his experience as an internee. Records include his autobiography, family photograph albums, legal records, a diary and hand-made notebook written by Henry during his interment, correspondence between Henry and his parents, and, correspondence between Henry and several Jewish agencies. Also included are newsletters that were produced during the 1990s by ex-internees who had kept in touch over the years. These remarkable records are invaluable in documenting the Canadian internment camps, the refugee and immigrant experience, Canada’s treatment of enemy aliens, as well as the Jewish community’s response.
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