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Wherever you go in Ontario, there might be something Jewish...Part 2

Ellen writes:

In my last post, I told you about historical plaques and markers about the Jewish community in Western Canada. Continuing east, there is a wealth of information about Ontario. As usual, we recommend you throw a JewJu Bag into your suitcase or duffel for your Shabbat on the road, and print this to tuck into the bag!

Thanks to the efforts of Alan L. Brown, it’s easier to find historical plaques in Ontario than anyone else. From his website, http://www.ontarioplaques.com/ :

Welcome. I'm Alan L Brown. I'm a 73-year-old retired school librarian who left the profession in June, 2002. I've had an interest in plaques since I was a kid. Now that I'm retired, I set out, in March 2004, with my trusty digital camera, to take a photo of each of the Provincial government's Ontario Heritage Trust plaques and create a page for each on this site

Thanks to him, I can share a good number of plaques in Ontario.

By Ward Market
By Ward Market

If you’re visiting Ottawa, chances are you’ll go to the By Ward Market. While you’re there, look for the plaque at George Street and By Ward Market Square, which details the history of the area, and mentions that it was once the centre of the Jewish community.

At 149 Somerset Street, at the front steps to the Army Offers’ Mess, there’s a plaque for Lilian Bilsky Freiman, the first Jewish Canadian to receive the Order of the British Empire (OBE). The comic strip This Week in History called her “Mother of Thousands”. Among her causes, she worked to rescue Polish orphans, was a president of Hadassah-WIZO.


Alan L Brown began his documentation project with Toronto, and so we are very lucky to know where there are a good number of historical plaques.

Let’s start with a place that is well-known in the history of this city: Christie Pits. At the corner of Christie Street and Bloor is a plaque describing and commemorating the Christie Pit Riot of 1933, a four-hour riot, with Jews as the target.

There’s a plaque on the sidewalk of the north-east corner of Spadina and Adelaide about Benjamin Brown, one of the first Jewish architects in Toronto. Many of his buildings were commissioned by the Jewish community.

The Balfour Building, for example, (named after Arthur J. Balfour, of the Balfour Declaration), was commissioned by Jewish entrepreneurs and housed several clothing businesses, at the edge of the garment district. There’s a plaque on the building, at the northeast corner of Spadina and Adelaide.

A few of our institutions were established in response to Jews not being welcome in existing institutions. The Primrose Club, for example, was established as a social club for Jews. It was designed by – you guessed it – Benjamin Brown. It later was acquired by the University of Toronto as a Faculty Club. There’s a plaque there, at 41 Willcocks Street, near Spadina and Huron.

World-famous Mount Sinai Hospital, now on University Avenue, began life as the Jewish Maternity and Convalescent Hospital. Not only was it a hospital where the patients had access to Kosher food and could be served in Yiddish, it also offered employment for Jewish doctors, at a time when it was hard for them to find positions elsewhere. There’s a plaque at 100 Yorkville Avenue, the site of the original hospital.

Speaking of hospitals, Baycrest Centre, at Bathurst Street and Baycrest Avenue, (north of Lawrence) has a plaque telling of its origins as the Jewish Old Folks Home, on Cecil Street, in 1916.

National Historic plaques at Kensington Market
National Historic plaques at Kensington Market

You may notice that many of our historical sites are around Spadina Avenue. In the mid-19th Century, many Jewish immigrants settled in the Kensington Market area, around Spadina and College. It’s now a National Historic Site (and very much still an immigrant market). There’s a detailed set of plaques at Bellevue Square at Augusta Avenue.

There’s a plaque about the original Young Men’s-Young Women’s Hebrew Association, first formed in 1919, at the Miles Nadal JCC, at the corner of Bloor and Spadina.

You’ll find a plaque about the precursor to the UJA, the Federation of the Jewish Philanthropies of Toronto, at its original location, at 220 Simcoe Street, just north of Michael Fleet Avenue.

Rounding off our list of non-synagogue Jewish plaques, at the southwest corner of Spadina Avenue and St. Andrew Street, there’s a plaque about the Labor Lyceum, which was a meeting place for several Jewish cultural groups, as well as the headquarters for non-Communist trade unions in the Jewish garment district.

Toronto Synagogues with Historic Plaques

Holy Blossom Temple has two plaques: One, near the main entrance to Holy Blossom Temple on Bathurst Street, south of Eglinton, tell of Holy Blossom’s origin in 1849 as the First Jewish Congregation in Canada West (that is, west of Montreal).

There’s another on at 155 Yonge Street, the original site of Holy Blossom, where it began life above a drug store which is long gone.

Junction Shul
Junction Shul

On Cecil Street, a block east of Spadina, you’ll find the Cecil Street Community Centre. A plaque tells of its history, first as a Christian Church, then the Ostrovtzer Synagogue then a Chinese Catholic Centre, before its present incarnation.

There are plaques outside the Kiever Synagogue, built in 1927, at 25 Bellevue Avenue.

At Maria Street and Shipman Street is a plaque about the Knesseth Israel Synagogue, known as the Junction Shul, which was established in 1913 at Maria Street and Runnymede Road.

Beach Hebrew Institute
Beach Hebrew Institute

In the East end of Toronto, at 109 Kenilworth Avenue, you’ll find outside the Beach Hebrew Institute (also known as the Kenilworth Shul). There’s a plaque outside about its history, first as a church, then a community centre, and finally as a synagogue.

Check back soon for the third in this series about Plaques and Markers, where we'll continue our journey eastward.