The Future is Bright for Canada’s Jewish Past

The Canadian Jewish Heritage Network looks back at Jewish History

The Canadian Jewish Heritage Network looks back at Jewish History

By Shannon Hodge
Archivist, Jewish Public Library Archives
and Janice Rosen
Director, Canadian Jewish Congress Charities Committee National Archives

On June 6th, the Canadian Jewish Congress Charities Committee National Archives (CJCCCNA) and the Jewish Public Library Archives (JPL-A) celebrated the launch of the Canadian Jewish Heritage Network.

The Canadian Jewish Heritage Network (CJHN) brings together the collections of these two archival institutions on one powerful site; a virtual “mind meld” of archival collection databases, genealogical data, as well as digitized documents, posters and photographs. Major initial funding for the project came from the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Family Foundation. Speaking at the launch, Stephen Bronfman, Chair of the Foundation, noted that the new website allows us to “share the wonderful rich history of Jews in Canada” so that these stories are now “open to be explored by Jews and non-Jews alike.”

These two major organizations involved in Canadian Jewish historical research, both located in Montreal, preserve the memory of Quebec and Montreal’s poets and politicians, its artists and activists, its builders and teachers, its families and philanthropists. The launch of the Canadian Jewish Heritage Network marks two years of major collaboration to bring together their collections virtually for the benefit of the community and researchers of the community.

Now you can also visit those collections from the comfort of your own computer, searching the CJHN online catalogue for archival material dating from the 18th century onwards. Using the site’s selection cart, you can also select, e-mail, print or order archival material directly from the web. More than 25,000 database records are currently online, as well as over 1,500 digitized historic photographs and archival documents. Many complete multi-page documents are available in PDF format. The digitized documents currently online include minutes, annual reports, anniversary publications, sermons and ephemeral material.

An archival picture

An archival picture

Users of the site can also delve into the CJHN’s genealogical research database, which already contains over 50,000 genealogical records and more than 5,000 associated images. This “Family History” section of the site was funded by a special donation from Penny Rubinoff of Toronto. Speaking at the launch, Rubinoff noted: “Genealogy is a fanatical pursuit for many of us and online, non-census historical Canadian data on Jewish families has been lacking, especially compared to many other countries. It will not only be Canadians who benefit from this database, but genealogists around the world whose families have had Canadian roots.”

Archives are not really about the past, rather archivists must constantly plan for the future: how will we preserve this for 500 years; who is going to use this archive 50 years from now; what will they need and why and so on. Because of this, the CJHN site will continue to expand its services and digital offerings. These plans include the further development of free teacher resources using digitized archives, some of which are now available under the “Education” section of the CJHN.

Sustainability for the Canadian Jewish community memory has indeed found strong support. Announced at the launch by Marc Gold, President of United Israel Appeal Canada and Past President of Federation CJA, the CJHN, and the CJCCCNA and JPL-A, will receive continued support for their work from the Alex and Ruth Dworkin Foundation under the Jewish Community Foundation.

The future is indeed bright for the community’s rich past as the Canadian Jewish Heritage Network continues to grow rapidly.

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