The photographer Sylvia Schwartz (1914–1998) was born in Toronto, one of three daughters to Joseph and Gertrude Schwartz. Her father owned a fur-manufacturing company on Madison Avenue, J. Schwartz & Co. Ltd., and he later became a partner in the Park Plaza Hotel on Avenue Road.
Sylvia had a very successful career in photography. She began her career during the 1940s, owning a studio on Grenville Road. She soon became a prominent portrait photographer in Toronto, capturing images of families, servicemen during the war, and brides. She eventually carved out a niche specializing in child portraiture. Her knack in having the children sit quietly and actually posing for the camera is obvious in these charming photographs. In addition to her professional activities, she was also recognized for her commitment to Communism. She befriended many famous American artists who were supporters of the cause, such as Paul Robeson, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, and Cab Caloway, frequently travelling across the border to attend meetings and to work with her American comrades. She documented these trips in her photographs, and a number of brilliant photographs of these jazz musicians are in the collection.
The collection of photographs by Syliva Schwartz at the Ontario Jewish Archives includes her commissioned work comprised of formal portraiture and Jewish lifecycle events like weddings and bar mitzvahs. In addition, there is her private work, which includes candid photographs of her family, often at their cottage in northern Ontario.
In 1976, Sylvia set up a special children's book award to honour her late sister Ruth, who was a respected Toronto bookseller. The award was first presented to Mordecai Richler for Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang. In 2004, six years after Sylvia's death in 1998, her family changed the name of the award to the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children's Book Awards to honour the memory of both sisters. Two awards are presented annually, one for picture books and one for young adult/middle readers.