Want to visit Canada's oldest synagogue? There are lots to choose from.
It started with a conversation between Judy and me: Have you come across anything about the old shul in Owen Sound?
I looked it up: it’s called Beth Ezekiel Synagogue, and it calls itself “Canada’s last small town synagogue”. It’s a designated Ontario Heritage Building, but it’s also very much a living community. It was formed in 1904, so it’s pretty old in Canadian terms, and by default, Canada’s oldest surviving small-town congregation. You’ll find it at 313 11th Street E in Owen Sound. Their website is http://www.bethezekiel.org/ . Call them for information (519) 376-8774
It got me thinking: what are the oldest synagogues in Canada? Turns out, Wikipedia has a directory of them at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oldest_synagogues_in_Canada . As it also turns out, it depends on what you mean by “oldest”. Congregation? Building? Building in continuous use as a synagogue? In each province?
If you’re travelling, here’s where you can find some of them, and maybe even pray in them. I found most on the Wikipedia site, but have added some others.
Oldest Congregation in Canada
The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of Montreal, The congregation was established in 1760. ; it’s celebrating its 250th anniversary this year! It’s at 4894 Saint-Kevin Avenue in Montreal, and their website is https://www.thespanish.org/ They have daily and Shabbat services, and follow the Sephardic style, if you’re looking to join them.
Oldest Synagogue Building in Canada
If you’ve been following this series of blog posts, you know the answer to this one: It’s Congregation Emanu-El in Victoria. The congregation is Conservative. The website is http://www.congregationemanuel.ca/, and their address is 1461 Blanshard Street, Victoria. They have Shabbat morning services and a weekly morning Minyan on Thursdays, but if you just want to see the Synagogue, they offer full and brief guided tours through the summer, Tuesdays through Thursdays. See their website for details.
Oldest Synagogues in each province
In Alberta, the oldest synagogue building is in the Calgary Heritage Park Historical Village. 1900 Heritage Dr. S.W. in Calgary. It's known as the "Little Shul on the Prairie". Get information about visiting the park at https://www.heritagepark.ca/ .
The shul was originally known as the Montefiore Institute, and was part of the Montefiore Colony near Sibbald, Alberta. The colony was one of Jewish settlers, established in 1910, with the synagogue being built in 1916. Eventually, the settlers moved away, and the synagogue was sold, moved, and used as a home until it was moved to the heritage park in 2008 and restored. It is, of course, open for visitors, but no longer functions as a place of worship. As an aside, the photographer Vanessa Woods, was clearly taken with this story and has written a fascinating blog about the settlement. https://vanessawoodsphotography.com/2017/08/14/settlers-montefiore-colony/, and Catherine Annau’s blog has a history of its restoration here https://catherineannau.com/little-synagogue-on-the-prairie/
In Saskatchewan, the oldest surviving synagogue building is Beth Israel synagogue, in Willow Creek, near Melfort. It seems to be difficult to find, but worth it. Normally, I’ve been referring you to websites, but the Facebook page will probably be more helpful if you plan to visit. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Beth-Israel-Synagogue-Edenbridge-Saskatchewan/139972602688850
Manitoba’s oldest congregation is Congregation Shaarey Zedek, a Conservative synagogue in Winnipeg. That was founded in 1889. They also offer twice-daily worship, but their website offers little about their building or history. Their website is http://www.shaareyzedek.mb.ca/ or http://www.szwinnipeg.ca, and they are located at 561 Wellington Crescent.
The oldest surviving synagogue building in Winnipeg is the Ashkenaze, which has been meeting at the same location since 1922, according to the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. The original building was destroyed by fire in 1945, but replaced in the same location in 1948.
In Ontario, plenty of synagogues can lay claim to the title of “oldest”.
Of course, we’ve already discussed Canada’s last small-town synagogue (and therefore oldest still in use), in Owen Sound..
North Bay’s Sons of Jacob Synagogue is the oldest Ontario synagogue in Ontario still in use north of Toronto. Originally a grocery store, it became a synagogue in 1925. It’s at 302 McIntyre Street West, and there’s contact information at their website, https://sonsofjacobnorthbay.ca/ .
Holy Blossom Temple, (originally the Toronto Hebrew Congregation) having been founded in 1856, is Canada's oldest congregation west of Montreal. There’s plenty more about some of its sites in Toronto in my post Wherever You Go in Ontario, there Might be Something Jewish https://www.jewjubox.com/post/wherever-you-go-in-ontario-there-might-be-something-jewish-part-2. It’s recently gone a huge renovation. It’s located at 1950 Bathurst Street Their website is https://holyblossom.org/.
Knesset Yisrael (the Junction Shul) lays claim to having the oldest shul building in Toronto that is still in operation, although it now holds Services only for significant holidays. See it at 56 Maria Street, and visit their website at https://www.junctionshul.org/
In Hamilton, Temple Anshe Sholom calls itself “Canada’s oldest Reform congregation”. Their current address is 215 Cline Avenue North. If you want to join them for Shabbat services, there is a smorgasbord of services for Shabbat morning, and services every Erev Shabbat. Their website https://anshesholom.ca/ has information about their history and worship services.
Quebec also has a number of “oldest” synagogues.
Wikipedia claims that Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, in Montreal, is Canada’s oldest Reform synagogue, although it was formed in 1882, 30 years after Hamilton’s Anshe Sholom. It is indisputably the oldest Reform synagogue in Quebec, though, as it is the only one. Their website is https://www.templemontreal.ca/ and they are located at 4100 Sherbrooke Street West. There are Erev Shabbat and Shabbat morning services weekly. See the website for times and details.
Also in Montreal, Congregation Shaar Hashomayim is the first (and largest) traditional Ashkenazic congregation in Canada, established in 1846. Its website tells us that it was the first Ashkenazic congregation in British North America. https://www.shaarhashomayim.org gives you information, and you can see it in its current location at 450 Kensington Avenue. Call for times for Shabbat worship. Men and women sit separately.
The Bagg Street Shul, also an Orthodox shul in Montreal, is the oldest congregation in Quebec that is still in its original building - at the corner of Clark and Bagg streets. Shabbat services are held Shabbat mornings at 9:00. Their website https://baggstreetshul.com/ has more information.
Congregation Beth Israel Ohev Shalom (CBIOS) at 1251 Avenue de Mérici, is the oldest synagogue in Quebec City, and one of the oldest in North America. Their website is at https://cbios.ca. Contact them for more information. I couldn't find any photos of their building. If you have one to share, please feel free to forward it!
In New Brunswick, Sgoolai Israel, in Fredericton, is the oldest congregation still in existence. It was established in 1896, and it’s an unaffiliated synagogue, with women being counted in a Minyan. They have Erev Shabbat and Shabbat services. Visit their website at http://www.jewishfredericton.com. They are located at 168 Westmorland Street. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a photo of the building.
There was an older congregation, established in around 1871 in St. John. The Shaarei Zedek Synagogue building was recently bought and repurposed as an office building, as it was scheduled to be demolished. You can see it at 76 Carleton Street.
In Nova Scotia, the oldest synagogue building is in Glace Bay. According to family history, our great-grandfather was part of the founding of the synagogue, and our grandfather also worshiped there until he left Glace Bay. The congregations, Sons of David, folded in 2012, but it was established in 1901.While it’s no longer a functioning synagogue, you can still see it at 239 Prince Street. Judging by the street view of Google Maps, you can see a Magen David on the window of the second floor, and there are also star cut-outs in the wall of the porch.
That leaves Beth Israel Synagogue in Halifax, which was established in 1894, as the oldest congregation in Nova Scotia. Its original building was damaged beyond repair in the Halifax Fire of 1917. Another building was built in 1920, but its current building was built in 1956. If you would like to visit the synagogue, It claims to hold the only daily Minyan east of Montreal, and indeed, there are twice-daily services, including Shabbat. Their web address is http://thebethisrael.com/ , and their address is 1480 Oxford Street.
What about PEI? There is no synagogue in PEI, but there is a small community. In case you want to connect to them in your travels, their website is http://www.peijc.org/
In Newfoundland, Beth El Synagogue of St. John’s, the province’s first (and only) synagogue was established in 1909, and can be found at 124 Elizabeth. It hosts Erev Shabbat and Shabbat morning services, and it’s Egalitarian Conservative. Their website is https://www.bethelnl.com/.
What are you waiting for? Tuck your JewJu Bag into your suitcase, and take a look! And if you do, we’d love to hear from you!