Cecil Street Plaque Presentation

On Wednesday July 9, the OJA was pleased to participate in the heritage plaquing ceremonies for Cecil Street in Toronto. Approximately 200 people were in attendance at the Cecil Street Community Centre.

In partnership with the OJA, Heritage Toronto has now plaqued 13 Jewish heritage sites around the city. This latest site, Cecil Street, is unique in that it recognizes the impact and importance of a whole area to the vibrancy and well-being of a community, rather than one particular building or event. Cecil Street was once home to a high concentration of organizations, synagogues, social service agencies, meeting halls and fraternal groups and clubs that supported a growing and diverse Jewish community from the 1910s to the 1960s.

The heritage plaque features a short history of the street and archival photos from the collection of the OJA. One photo is of particular note as it depicts two small boys standing on the front steps of the Ostrovzter Synagogue (now the Cecil Street Community Centre). These two boys were Dr. Gordon Perlmutter and Gurion Hyman and both were on hand with their families to help unveil the plaque, now more than seven decades since that photograph was taken -- a special treat for all those in attendance.

The ceremony also featured a moving speech by Gurion Hyman's son, Dr. Avi Hyman, on the legacy of Cecil Street and what the area meant to the Jewish community at the time and what it now means to second and third generation Jewish Torontonians. The evening also included messages from Eric Slavens, chair of the OJA; Brent Pearlman, board member of Heritage Toronto; and Adam Nelson, representative of Scotiabank.

The presentation was followed by the OJA's A Sense of Spadina walking tour that guided four groups of participants through the Spadina area neighbourhood. If you would like to learn more about the area, you can sign up for one of our Sense of Spadina walking tours happening this summer and fall.

On left: Ontario Jewish Archives, item 1180 (cropped). On right: Marcus Mitanis, courtesy of Heritage Toronto.

Gordon Perlmutter and Gurion Hyman outside 58 Cecil Street, former Ostrovtzer Synagogue, now the Cecil Street Community Centre, 1938 and 2014.

On left: Ontario Jewish Archives, item 1180 (cropped). On right: Marcus Mitanis, courtesy of Heritage Toronto.

Heritage Toronto plaques Baycrest Hospital

The Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre and Heritage Toronto invite you to join us for a plaque presentation commemorating the history of Baycrest, an exceptional facility dedicated to comprehensive geriatric care, as well as one of the world’s top research institutes in cognitive neuroscience.

The Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care began as the Jewish Old Folks Home, an elder care residence established by the Ezras Noshem Society, a Jewish women's mutual benefit organization. These women initiated the fundraising for the Home in response to the lack of Jewish elder care in Toronto, particularly problematic in that Jewish seniors required kosher meals, and more significantly, the ability to communicate with their staff in Yiddish. In 1917, they were able to purchase a home at 31 Cecil Street, just southeast of College and Spadina and officially opened between September 1918 and January 1920.

The Home was originally run by a small staff and volunteers from the Ezras Noshem Society, but by 1938 was serving more residents than the house could hold, so the organization bought the houses at 29, 33 and 35 Cecil Street and expanded outward. By this point, the Home's services had also grown to include a hospital ward, recreational programming, and synagogue services.

By 1946 it was clear that there would be need for larger, more modern facilities, and a major fundraising campaign led to the construction of the current complex on Bathurst Street, opening in 1954 as two institutions, the Jewish Home for the Aged and Baycrest Hospital. Additions in the 1970s included the Baycrest Terraces, an apartment building for seniors, and the Joseph and Minnie E. Wagman Community Centre, which allowed Baycrest to begin offering social and recreational services for Jewish families as well as seniors.

In the last 30 years, Baycrest has made great strides specifically in terms of research and care for medical challenges that predominantly affect elderly populations, such as vascular disorders and cognitive difficulties. Its medical facilities are affiliated with the University of Toronto and are internationally renowned, all while it has continued to provide the care and religious and cultural programming relevant to its residents and surrounding community.

The plaque presentation takes place on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 11:00 am in the Silverman Garden Court at 3560 Bathurst Street. Speakers include Heritage Toronto Board member Brent Pearlman; Plaques and Markers Program supporter, Scotiabank’s Rene Kaliafian; City Councillor of Ward 15, Josh Colle; and OJA Board member Edwin Goldstein, who together will address Baycrest’s significant contribution to Jewish life in Toronto. To RSVP please visit http://heritagetoronto.org/event/jewish-old-folks-home-later-baycrest-plaque-presentation/

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!