Jewish Vocational Services Case Files

The Ontario Jewish Archives' volunteer program is essential to the successful operation of the Archives. Much of the work done by our small but dedicated group of volunteers results in better access to our records by the public. One such example is the recent completion of the Jewish Vocational Services of Toronto case file project, which involved over a year of volunteer time. These case files number approximately 3000 in total and date from 1947 until 1951. They are an important part of our collection as they document a group of individuals who received assistance from JVS immediately following the Second World War.

Many of the individuals were Holocaust survivors and had recently immigrated to Toronto with the assistance of other Jewish social service agencies and organizations, such as the Canadian Jewish Congress, Jewish Immigrant Aid Service and Jewish Family and Child Services. These case files shed light on this period of immigration in Canadian Jewish history and also document the number and the range of private sector companies who provided job opportunities for those in need of work.

Ontario Jewish Archives, photo #24.

Atlantic Fur Company, 1940s.

Ontario Jewish Archives, photo #24.

The JVS case files are very sensitive documents as they contain personal information such as names, addresses, past education, job placements and wages. As such, access is restricted and must be first approved by the Director of the OJA in accordance with our privacy policy. Yet, it is certain that these files will prove invaluable to genealogists, demographers, labour historians and others interested in this long-running Jewish agency.

A Sense of Spadina and Jane's Walk

On a beautiful, clear and sunny Sunday May 8th, over 50 interested Urbanists attended this year's Sense of Spadina Jane’s Walk tour of the Kensington Market and Spadina Avenue area.

Jane’s Walk honours the legacy and ideas of urban activist and writer Jane Jacobs who championed the interests of local residents and pedestrians over a car-centered approach to planning. Jane’s Walk advances local engagement with contemporary urban planning practices and helps knit people together instilling belonging and encouraging civic leadership. Free walking tours held on the first weekend of May each year are in many cases led by locals. Since its inception in Toronto in 2007, Jane’s Walk has expanded rapidly. In May of 2010, 424 walks were held in 68 cities in nine countries.

Our tour began in the Anshei Minsk Synagogue, where tour leaders Cyrel Troster and Ryan Handlarski discussed the history of Jewish life in Kensington Market and the importance that Spadina Avenue held in early Jewish life in Toronto. While at the Anshei Minsk Synagogue, its spiritual leader, Rabbi Shmuel Spero, joined the group for a quick discussion of the Synagogue’s long history and significance for Urban Jewish life.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Woolfson.

Cyrel Troster with her group in front of John's Italian Caffe.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Woolfson.

The group then proceeded to experience first hand the Spadina Avenue neighbourhood. The tour leaders guided their respective groups around parts of Baldwin St., Beverly St. and Cecil St., stopping at various locations of former, and current, Jewish significance. The tour concluded with all the participants feeling a greater connection to past Jewish life in downtown Toronto. 

If you missed the walk this year, Jane’s Walks take place the first weekend in May. Be sure to join us at next years Walk! Or better still, sign up for one of our four public walks this year by visiting our walking tours page.

London Called...

On May 4, 2011, the Ontario Jewish Archives hosted a book launch for "A History of the Jewish Community of London Ontario: From the 1850s to the Present Day." Written by Bill Gladstone and published by Now and Then Books, this wonderful hardcover history traces the rise of London synagogues and communal organizations, presents dozens of family histories and profiles many leading figures in business, medicine, law and the arts, all alongside hundreds of photographs from private and archival sources.

Ontario Jewish Archives, photo #4048.

Ginsberg grocery store, London, Ontario, 1909.

Ontario Jewish Archives, photo #4048.

The book was commissioned in 2009 by children of David and Rachel Rubinoff as a tribute to their parents and to the city and community in which they lived for nearly half a century. Initially a ladies’ wear merchant, David Rubinoff (1913-2008) became a real estate speculator and land developer in and around London, responsible for such projects as the Stoneybrook subdivision and the White Oaks Mall. Having acquired the international franchise for Holiday Inn, he built a chain of more than 60 Commonwealth Holiday Inns across Canada, the Caribbean and Europe.

Bill Gladstone gave a short presentation highlighting some of the individuals, organizaitons and events of London's Jewish history to a packed crowd of over 180 ex-Londoners and history enthusiasts. Most of those in attendence hadn't seen each other in years and even decades making the event a happy reunion for many. The evening was capped off with a lovely dessert reception, courtesy of the Rubinoff Family.

Partial proceeds from the sale of the books at the event benefited the Ontario Jewish Archives and we would like to thank both Penny Rubinoff and Bill Gladstone for their generosity.

100th International Women's Day at the OJA

Today marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. This year, the United Nations has chosen “Equal Access to Education, Training and Science and Technology: Pathway to Decent Work for Women” as its theme. In honour of this 100th year, the OJA is profiling an outstanding Jewish woman in Toronto’s history whose ardent support and dedication to education was a life-long focus.

Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 15, item 17.

Ida Lewis Siegel, ca. 1971.

Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 15, item 17.

Ida Lewis Siegel (1885-1982) was born to Samuel Lewis and Hannah Ruth (Ticktin) Lewis on 14 February 1885 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She was the first child to be born in the United States after her parents immigrated from Lithuania. She had two brothers, Abe Lewis and Charles S. Lewis. She attended elementary school in Pittsburgh, and in 1894, she and her family moved to Toronto. On 14 February 1905, Ida married Isidore Hirsch Siegel at the Elm Street Synagogue. Isidore was a travelling salesman, and later, owned a store in Cochrane, Ontario. The family had a home in the Beach area of Toronto where Ida spent most of her time caring for her six children with the aid of her mother.

Communal work was Ida’s calling. She is credited with helping to found a large number of Jewish philanthropic and social organizations including the Daughters of Zion, which was the first ladies' Zionist society in Canada, the Herzl Girls' Club, Hadassah-Wizo Organization of Canada, the Hebrew Ladies' Sewing Circle, which developed into the Hebrew Ladies' Maternity Aid Society, the Y.M.-Y.W.H.A., the Women’s League of the United Synagogues of America in Toronto and many others. In addition, she and her brother Abe formed the first free Jewish Dispensary in Toronto, located on Elizabeth Street in the Ward, which was the forerunner to the Mount Sinai Hospital. Ida was also instrumental in the formation of a unified fundraising body for the Jewish community known as the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, which would become the current UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. However, she was denied a seat on the executive after campaigning for a female representative.

In 1937, Ida ran unsuccessfully for alderman in Toronto, but remained politically active with the Association of Women's Electors. She was active in the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom from 1915 onward and was an outspoken opponent of both World Wars. She held the position of national vice-president of the Zionist Organization of Canada and sat on the executive board of the Canadian Jewish Congress.
Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 15, scrapbook file.

Toronto School Board election blotter, 1930. The blotter is in Yiddish and the last line reads: The Mother is the Best One to Bring Up the Children.

Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 15, scrapbook file.

But it was education that was Ida’s true passion. She was one of the original founders of the Home and School Association in 1919 and formed the first Home and School club for Jewish mothers. She began her professional career with the public school system in 1930, when she became the first Jewish woman to be elected to the Toronto Board of Education, a post which she held for six years. She was later named honorary secretary of the Toronto Bureau of Jewish Education in 1949, serving until 1969. She was honoured by the BJE at its annual Education Dinner in 1955 for her devotion to Jewish learning. Among her many accomplishments, Ida was involved in bringing milk distribution into the public school system for undernourished children and campaigned for better physical and health education curriculum. In 1933, Ida fought for and won the discontinuance of mandatory cadet training in the public schools, both on ideological grounds and because she believed the money could be better spent elsewhere. 

Ida was always vocal about women’s equality in education and actively campaigned for the rights of female educators, especially when it came to leadership roles. In an undated letter to the editor of the Toronto Globe newspaper, Ida offered her congratulations to the first woman elected as chair of the Windsor Board of Education, stating that Windsor was “proving itself more broadminded than Toronto.” Ida went on to criticize the Toronto Board for continuously passing up a woman trustee for chair, even though her qualifications were equal to those of the men on the board. “It is up to the women of Toronto to remind those concerned that women now enjoy the franchise and are in line for public office on a merit basis equally with men.”[Letter to the editor, Toronto Globe and Mail, undated. Ontario Jewish Archives, Ida Lewis Siegel fonds 18, correspondence file.] Ida was involved in the field of education right up into her 80s. For ten years during the 1970s, Ida volunteered her time teaching civics classes to immigrant children at the Dewson Street Public School in Toronto. She related her own experiences as an immigrant in Canada and arranged for special field trips for the children.

The OJA holds the personal records of Ida Siegel, including correspondence and memoirs, photographs and records documenting her educational and communal activities.

Philip Givens records at the OJA

Ontario Jewish Archives, Philip Givens fonds 51, series 4-6, file 40, item 2.

Mayor Phil Givens with wife Min and Israeli President Zalmon Shazar during a mayoral visit to Israel, 1965.

Ontario Jewish Archives, Philip Givens fonds 51, series 4-6, file 40, item 2.

The OJA has recently processed the records of former Toronto mayor, Phil Givens. The fonds consists of several boxes of textual records, artifacts, political cartoons, and scrapbooks as well as over 900 remarkable photographs documenting Givens' political, communal and personal life.

Philip Gerard Givens (1922-1995) was a municipal, provincial and federal politician, a judge, a police commissioner and an active Jewish communal leader. He is largely remembered as the 54th Mayor of Toronto. Although he graduated as a lawyer from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1949, shortly thereafter Givens decided to enter politics, running as a municipal school board trustee in 1950. He then went on to serve as alderman and city controller until 1963. Givens was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1962.

Following the sudden death of Mayor David Summerville in 1963, Givens was appointed by City Council as the Mayor of Toronto and was officially elected to the position in 1964, winning a close race against the former mayor, Allan Lamport. Givens was publicly seen as an affable and populist mayor but his tenure was not without controversy. His support for the construction of the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts and his decision to acquire Henry Moore’s bronze sculpture "the Archer" for the new Nathan Phillips Square were both highly controversial during his term in office. In particular, the Moore sculpture sparked intense controversy and public debate amongst council members and citizens alike. Although ultimately purchased with private solicited donations, the controversy surrounding the statue’s purchase was still partly to blame for Givens’ 1966 election defeat to William Dennison.

In 1968, Givens entered national politics for the second time, (the first being a failed 1957 bid in Toronto’s Spadina riding), winning a seat as a Liberal in Toronto’s York West riding. In 1971, he stepped down before the end of his term to campaign for a seat in the Provincial Legislature. Again running under the Liberal banner, Givens won his seat and represented the ridings of York-Forest Hill and Armourdale until 1977, when he officially retired from politics. That same year he was appointed as a provincial court judge and chairman of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Commission, serving in both capacities until 1985, when he left the Commission but continued in the judiciary as a civil trial judge until officially retiring from public life in 1988.

An ardent Zionist, Givens was also a prominent leader of several Jewish communal organizations. He was founder and first president of the Upper Canada Lodge of B’nai Brith and sat on the executives of several Jewish organizations. He was chairman of the United Israel Appeal-Israel Emergency Fund in 1967 and the United Jewish Appeal-Israel Special Fund in 1968. From 1973 to 1985 he was the national president of the Canadian Zionist Federation and in the 1990s was the national chairman of the Canadian Jewish Congress’ Committee for Yiddish. Givens was honoured by many Jewish community organizations and received several awards over his lifetime. Givens was also known to be a passionate sailor and was a member of both the Royal Canadian and the Island Yacht Clubs in Toronto.

The records of  former mayor Phil Givens will complement those currently housed at the City of Toronto Archives and will be invaluable to researchers studying municipal, provincial and national politics as well as the history of Jewish communal life in Toronto. The OJA would like to thank Mrs. Min Givens for assisting with the identification of many of the events and individuals depicted in the photographs.