The first annual Jewish Montreal Heritage Week is now over for 2013.  It was a great week and we look forward to future events.  To find out more about JMHW or any of the participating institutions, contact us through this site or see the About Us page for individual archives or museums.  Thanks to everyone for making the week such a great success and we'll see you all next year!
 
 
By Stephanie Tara Schwartz, PhD
Research Director, Interactive Museum of Jewish Montreal


The Interactive Museum of Jewish Montreal (IMJM) is a location-based museum. We identify places across the city that can trigger stories about individuals, organizations and events that shaped the history and heritage of Montreal’s Jewish community. To highlight these locations, we map all of our exhibits. Mapping is the process of finding an exhibit’s location in the past, and converting it to its contemporary address.

Tracking a person’s address in Montreal before the 1970s requires detective work and precision. To track a married woman or a child, you have to know the name of their husband or father. If you are looking for the address of a new immigrant from a non-Anglophone country, it helps if you know a person’s profession and can guess at the multiple transliterations and Anglicized versions of their surname. Some people, many actually, moved apartments every year. The name of a business or organization from fifty years ago may not be one you recognize today.

If we have a good idea of the name of a person or a business, we can search for them alphabetically using the Lovell’s directory at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec website. Say we want to find the address of the Jewish Public Library in 1925. Once on the website, these are the steps:
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1. Click on Série principale (1842-1977).

2. Click on the desired year, in this case 1925.

3. Click on Montreal alphabetical directory [Annuaire alphabétique montréalais].

4. Click on “J” (for Jewish Public Library).

5. There are 14 pages of “J” in 1925. Scroll down the list using the right scroll bar and find the page according to alphabetical order. “Jewish” can be found on page 7. Click on Page 7 de 14 to view.

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6. Click Affichage plein écran to enlarge the screen. You can then zoom in to find “Jewish People’s Library” located at 1131 St-Urbain.

You have now found the address of the Jewish Public Library in 1925. We know, however, that most Montreal street numbers were changed after 1927. What is 1131 St-Urbain on today’s map?  To make this conversion, we compare a city map from 1914, to a city map from after 1927. After the conversion, we learn that the Jewish People’s Library (its name in 1925) was located at what today is 4115 de St-Urbain. 

Check it out on Google Street View:
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Once we know the location of an exhibit, we upload it to our map on http://imjm.ca. With this map of exhibits, we can create in-person, and digital walking tours! These guided tours describe Jewish locations in their social, historical and geographical contexts. For example:  We might learn that the Jewish People’s Library moved nearby to 4099 de l’Esplanade in 1930, and again to a purpose built building on the corner of Mont-Royal and de l’Esplanade in 1953. 

An IMJM walking tour can lead you past all three locations in their historical progression. The contrast in appearance of these buildings demonstrates the increasing financial support for the library and its growing prominence in the community. And there is so much more to learn! When the Jewish People’s Library moved out of 4115 St-Urbain, the Stepener Shul moved in and renovated the building to serve as a synagogue.

To learn more about location-based Montreal Jewish history you can try one of our digital tours here: imjm.ca/hazzanut or the mobile version for tablets and smart phones here: tinyurl.com/hazmobile

Stay in touch via Facebook to hear about our next IMJM guided walking tour. Or drop us a line at info@imjm.ca to learn more about mapping and the museum.  

 
 
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Outreach and education
It depend on those who pass
Whether I am tomb or treasure
Whether I speak or am silent
The choice is yours alone.
Friend, do not enter without desire.
-Paul Valery
It depends on those who pass


The first annual Jewish Montreal Heritage Week (JMHW) was created as an opportunity to celebrate the work and collections of this community’s heritage organizations.  Within our walls and in our hands, we preserve some of the most precious memories and legacies of a strong and diverse community.  Archives and museums do not exist to stand silent.  Our collections are meant to be shared and communicated with future generations.   Each of the institutions participating in JMHW plan and carry out outreach and education programmes to bring history and memories alive for diverse audiences.  Read on and discover ways to learn about the past.

Canadian Jewish Congress Charities Committee National Archives

The CJCCCNA specializes in offering outreach to older students and university classes.  Well-known for conducting workshops with these students, the CJCCCNA provides detailed instruction on archival research and bibliographies for topics in Canadian Jewish topics.  In the past, the CJCCCNA published a serial entitled Canadian Jewish Archives.  These publications covered a wide-range of topics including Canadian Jewish education, the Yiddish press, Jews and Canadian labour, Canadian Jewish immigration and much more.  This serial is still widely used today as a valuable research tool.

More recently, the CJCCCNA has become a leader in mining genealogical information from archival sources; translating and making available thousands of obituaries from the pages of the Keneder Adler, collecting and sharing Canadian Jewish casualites from both World Wars, and making accessible thousands of records from Jewish Immigrant Aid Services, the Hebrew Sick Benefit Association, and the Jewish Colonization Association.  Also a founding member of the Canadian Jewish Heritage Network, all of this information can be found at www.cjhn.ca.

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Postcard activity from the Jewish Public Library, available through Education Outreach on the CJHN, www.cjhn.ca
Jewish Public Library Archives

The JPL-A specializes in working with younger students, grades five through high school, and introducing historical literacy through primary sources like original photographs, documents and objects.  For several years, the JPL-A used archival activities tested during school visits to create a series of educational resources entitled Experience Heritage.  These classroom activities and resources are now available free-of-charge to teachers off of the Canadian Jewish Heritage Network Education pages.

A particular programme of note is the M’dor le dor project, developed in partnership with Akiva School. The vision for M’Dor le Dor is to create a tangible experience for students to understand the complexity and diversity of their different social groups (family unit, class and peer unit and community unit).  By exploring the heritage of their family as it relates to the development of the Montreal Jewish community, students should be able to extrapolate the role of family and individuals’ history in building societies.

Students begin their project with lectures and activities from the JPL-A on identifying, using and analyzing different types of archival materials.  Led by their teachers after this initial exploration, students then choose materials from their own families and conduct oral history interviews with family members on why their chosen material is so important in telling the history of their family.  The final projects are presented by the student, their parents, and grandparents (and in some cases great-grandparents) in front of a large audience of their peers and families.  M’dor le dor has a significant impact on everyone involved and the JPL-A is looking to expand the programme for 2014-2015.

Also a founding member of the Canadian Jewish Heritage Network, the collections of the JPL-A can be searched at www.cjhn.ca.  
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Interactive Museum of Jewish Montreal, www.imjm.ca 

The inspiration for the IMJM was borne out of one person’s desire to discover the history and often little-known stories attached to the physical spaces of Jewish Montreal, past and present.  The IMJM has grown into a virtual force, mapping and making use of new technologies to bring heritage to a new generation.  In their own words, “The Interactive Museum of Jewish Montreal is being created at a crucial point for the Jewish community, which turned 250 years old in 2010. Young people are returning to the neighborhoods of their immigrant grandparents and great-grandparents. Many members of older generations seek to share their memories and stories with their children and grandchildren. The Jewish community looks to tell its unique story to its neighbors in Montreal and visitors from around the world.”

In 2012, the IMJM also added walking tours, both physical and virtual, to their portfolio – check out their Hazzanut walking tour on our video page!  With no shortage of history to explore, 2013 promises to be an even bigger year for the IMJM staff as they participate with the community’s youth in bringing the past to a new life.

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Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre

The MHMC Museum was first opened in 1979 and has been our greatest tool for outreach and education ever since. Visitors can discover original objects, documents, photographs as well as a selection of videos of Holocaust survivors’ testimonies. 

We also use collection items in educational tools and programs. Working with primary source documents (original documents created by an actor or a witness of the events recounted) enables students to analyze and contextualise their learning. For example in the MHMC activity “Draw-me the story... of Jews in the Netherlands during the Holocaust”, students learn about the impact of antisemitism and anti-Jewish measures on the lives of three Montreal Holocaust survivors of Dutch origin by examining historical documents. Students then create a graphic novel based on the historical experiences of Jews in the Netherlands during the Holocaust.  

In “Exploring the Evidence:  The Holocaust, Cambodian Genocide, and Canadian Intervention”, students learn about the immigration of Jews to Canada prior to and during the Second World War through the video testimonies of three Holocaust survivors interviewed by the MHMC. They also learn about the political and socio-economical context of the 1920s in Germany by reading an original 1919 letter from our collection.

Our collection has also been the focus of programs inside the museum. The activity “17 letters: For the Last Time and Forever” was originally performed as a public reading inside our exhibition on the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day (it is now available for download from our Website). 17 letters, written between 1941 and 1944, were selected from the Centre’s collection. They were written by people caught in the storm of Nazism and the genocide of European Jews during the Second World War. These letters were a call for help, they were letters of farewell or hope, and these words are often the last traces of life that relatives of Holocaust victims received. 

In 2011, we invited visitors to take part in a special “Behind the scene” tour of our museum. Artefacts were brought from storage into the museum for our visitors to see. Participants could even touch the objects, on the condition that they wear gloves. This gave them not only the chance to discover new artefacts from our collection, but it also gave them an idea of our efforts for preservation and research.

Using original documents can lead to extraordinary learning experiences for people of all ages. Historical documents bring us closer to the events and people from faraway places and times. 

 
 
Contribution from the Cummings Centre for Seniors

The Cummings Centre is pleased to announce a new initiative taking place and that is the Cummings Centre Archives Project – Celebrating our past, looking forward to our future!

A dedicated and determined team of volunteers have begun combing through the Cummings Centre’s past. The goal of the Archives Project is to capture the special moments of our Centre’s life cycle – our “story” and preserve them for the generations to come.

Some of the material that we’re looking for includes: anniversary or history books as well as posters, flyers, and brochures about the Centre; files with planning documents for major or special events (e.g. special anniversaries, holiday parties, programs or tributes); photographs, slides, photo albums, special calendars, booklets, memorabilia, newsletters and correspondence.

We are especially seeking items from the former Golden Age Association and Jewish Support Services for the Elderly.

And if you have the history of where each document or photograph came from, even better!

Background

Our Centre has a rich legacy, dating back more than 60 years to 1949, when the National Council of Jewish Women conducted a survey which confirmed the need for a senior citizens’ club in the Montreal Jewish community.

In 1964 we reached another milestone, when the name Golden Age Association was adopted. In 1978, a donation from the Cummings family enabled the construction of our current home on Westbury Avenue.

In 2000 Cummings Centre, as it is known today, was formed with the merger of the Golden Age Association and Jewish Support Services for the Elderly.

But behind dates and facts are people who have been and always will be at the very heart of our Centre.

For more information, or to donate material to the Cummings Centre Archives, please contact: Michael Beigleman at 514-342-1234 local 7244 or michael@cummingscentre.org

Additionally, if you would like to get involved in this exciting project, please contact our Volunteer Department at 514-342-1234 or lynn@cummingscentre.org

 
 
By Julie Guinard, Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre
As archives and museums, our institutions have the mandate to care for objects and documents for generations to come. We care for a diversity of materials in medium such as paper, photographs and artworks, audio and video files. Our artefacts may be as diverse as pieces of furniture, tools, garments or liturgical objects.

When we talk about conservation, we talk about the treatments or repairs of damaged items in our collection. The broader term preservation refers to all the actions we undertake to prevent damage to our collections and minimize their deterioration.
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Handle with care (and gloves): Preservation starts with careful handling.  Regular activities like cataloguing, photographing and packing for shipment all require the handling of artefacts and documents.  In our everyday practice, we treat every museum object or archival document as if they were irreplaceable… because they often are! We wear gloves to avoid leaving traces on objects but also to protect our skin against dirt, mould or corrosive elements that can sometimes be present on the surface of objects. Gloves are used when handling objects, but they are not necessarily white cotton gloves. We often use latex or nitrile gloves (like surgeons or dentists do) to better hold slippery materials such as glass or ceramic.

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There is no dust in our storage: If you think museum and archives are dusty places, think again! You may not realize that the main aims of proper archival storage is to ensure that our collections are protected against agents of decay such as dust, pests, pollutants, as well as changes in temperature, relative humidity levels and exposure to light. Temperature and relative humidity levels are monitored regularly and should be kept as stable as possible. Collections are stored in archival boxes or packed in archival materials such as non-acidic paper and foams. We store each artefact or document depending on its material, structure and size. Garments might be put on padded hangers to prevent creases; fragile books will be stored in custom boxes to support their spines; photographs are placed in non-acidic sleeves and folders to be kept away from damaging light.

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For everyone to see: When displaying artefacts and documents we also need to adjust the temperature, relative humidity and Ultra Violet (UV) levels to maximize the safety of collection items. Colours of photographs, paper documents and textiles will fade if exposed for too long to UV. Sudden changes in temperature and humidity levels may cause ceramics to crack. Paper will swell and contract repeatedly.

One way to provide access to fragile objects which cannot sustain a long exposure is to digitize them, meaning to make copies. Objects and documents are photographed or copied in scanners. The images produced can then be shared with researchers and the general public, for example via online catalogues such as the www.cjhn.ca website. Digitization also encourages preservation by limiting the handling of original records.

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Preservation is a never ending process. It is never really seen by our patrons but is present in everything we do around our collection. It is one of the most important dimensions of our mandate and it really defines us as archives and museums.


 
 
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The Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre Archives

When Dora Wasserman passed away in December 2003, a whole treasure trove of materials was found in her home, basement and garage. There were over 100 boxes of every size and shape filled with papers, music, scripts, photos, slides, all unsorted and some damp.  Initially these materials were salvaged from the dumpster as were her books.

A collective of a dozen volunteers, many of them performers or friends of the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre was formed  The Azrieli family was kind enough to offer 2 offices in Decarie Square and others donated shelving. The Segal Centre (then the Saidye Bronfman Centre) provided a phone, a computer, and tables and paid for archival files and boxes.

The first step was to divide the materials. Similar documents, music, scripts, tapes,, reviews, publicity, posters, playbills, photos were placed into piles and boxed. There was no attempt yet to develop sub-categories.

There were a great many documents. Since 1958, the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre had performed at least 85 different and original plays and since 1951 about 41 plays for its children’s and youth troupe (YAYA) as well as tours to 48 cities in Europe, across Canada and the USA and Israel.

A sheet of music may have had the word “drums” on it but no description as to what song or play. There were photos without naming the play or the persons on them. There were very old films, audio tapes and quite old videos. There are many excerpts of scripts or “sides” and many scripts with handwritten changes by authors or actors. There are plays performed and plays submitted but not performed. All these documents had to be identified.

We learned together about handling and sorting and categorizing materials. We researched other theatre archives and found there were a variety of cataloguing systems in use.  We also spoke to professional archivists in Montreal and Ottawa and experts in the preservation of old films and multimedia. We researched digitalizing our documents but did not have the means to do this.

We moved into the Segal Centre for the Performing Arts in 2008.

What kept the Archives volunteers participating twice a week for all these years? The volunteers are educated retirees, filmmakers, musicians, librarians, educators, engineers, professors and veteran actors. We have a sense of mission as a resource to the world. Everyone is involved in decision-making. There was lots of research, discussions and debate about each step – and as in all democracies, collective decision-making takes more time. Eventually volunteers developed expertise in specific areas.

We decided that we would create this DWYT Archives first as a resource for our own theatre and then as a resource to other theatre professionals, researchers, students and for exhibits.

Question 1
We first asked:
 Who will use this archives? 
  • Our own theatre.
  • Theatre professionals
  • Yiddish Theatre professionals elsewhere 
  • Researchers on culture
  • Researchers on theatre
  • Researchers on history, etc
  • Researchers on playwrights, music etc
  • Students
  • For exhibits

Question 2
Our first test in organizing this fonds (this archive) into categories was
Is it retrievable? Is it accessible? How easy is it to retrieve?
All material should be retrievable on the spot. (That’s why headings  - even the names of the plays - are not written in Yiddish)

Question 3
Do we have the people to provide guidance and not only retrieval?
Yes – our volunteers not only can help researchers formulate the questions and answer questions but also tell people what other material is  available on their topic.

Directors of Yiddish Theatres who came here from abroad were blown away. The Forward, the major Yiddish newspaper in the world was very impressed . Shmuel Atzmon of Israel’s Yiddishpiel theatre said he wants to come to Montreal just to sit for 10 days in the archives and look at scripts. He said there is no other resource like this in the world. The new troupe at Paris’ Medem Library – not only chose plays but we helped guide them through the different types of plays they wanted – comedies, musicals, etc.  Professors attending the 2009 and 2011 Symposia at the Montreal International Yiddish Theatre Festivals were very interested.

Recently the CRI  (Le Centre de recherche sur l’intermédialité) at the Université de Montréal has created an international  project under Professor Jean-Marc Larrue to study this Archive and ultimately to digitize it.

An issue that concerns us deeply is not having the means to preserve the old films, audio tapes, slides and videos properly and avoid their further deterioration.

Another issue is that we know there are many more materials held by former actors and creative designers that belong in this archives but for which we have insufficient space and manpower.  We are hoping that eventually actors, designers and production staff would be willing to part with their personal collections long enough for them to be digitized.


 
 
By Linda Lei, Jewish General Hospital Library & Archives

Subsidized by the Jewish General Hospital (JGH) Health Sciences Library, the JGH Archives was set up in 2008, aiming to provide better preservation for and easier access to the existing historical records housed in the library. As the archivist of the JGH Archives, it is always fascinating for me to see how well the institutional memory has been kept and how much that still needs to be done to keep a growing record of the JGH heritage. Like a typical archival institution, the JGH Archives collects and preserves textual records, photographs, artifacts and audiovisual materials relating to the hospital, its departments and personnel. Unlike most public or long established archives, collecting materials is never as easy as it sounds to us.  As we all know that the macro-environment in which the JGH Archives resides is a hospital whose primary concern is always patient care and the Archives itself is still fairly new. Taking these into account, outreach has never been more important and meaningful to me than it was before. In the past four years, various outreach programs have been designed and implemented to help boost our visibility and connect potential and existing donors to the archival collections. Here are some examples:   

Memos and Mass Mailing 
The existing collections in the JGH Archives indicate that each department is a treasure trove of archives. The first attempt was “We Want Your Archives” memos on the bulletin boards throughout the hospital. However that only resulted in a few phone calls from departments wondering what to do with their patient files. In the second and the third attempts, a more detailed flyer with images of concrete examples of materials we are collecting was created, with an e-version put up on our website, as well as a shortened version published in Pulse, a JGH publication. For a more targeted follow-up, an internal mailing of the flyer only to the heads of all the departments and their secretaries was made. One month after the third attempt we realized that expecting immediate results of this type of promotional approach was not realistic in a hospital setting where most of the staff focus on patient care rather than old files locked in their cabinets. Other approaches must be adopted as well.
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Exhibits
Both physical and virtual exhibits are an excellent way for archives and museums to reach out to the community. The JGH Archives is no exception. This approach so far has been very successful for us, especially when they are part of an anniversary celebration. 

Depending on the occasion and the budget, traditional physical exhibit could be more mobile and creative. In 2009, a traveling exhibit during the hospital’s 75th anniversary was mounted in carefully selected locations, including AMC Forum 22, public libraries, and academic libraries during school days. A PowerPoint presentation, another format of the exhibit, was concurrently given in a number of residencies and community centers. By doing so, we were able to bring the JGH history up close to many more people. 

During the preparation of various exhibits, we worked closely with the Public Affairs and Communication Department, managed to solicit loan items from pertinent departments and external institutions, and established connections with not only many JGH old-timers but also enthusiasts from the Jewish community at large. All these personal interactions have contributed to new acquisitions during and after the events.  

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Open House
Open house is another traditional but effective way to reach out. The 2011 Open House of the Health Sciences Library where the JGH Archives is physically located, provided us an excellent opportunity to showcase some great aspects of our collections and design a historical photo quiz which saw a great participation. A majority of the guests and visitors completed the quiz and prizes were won for the most correct answers. 

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And there are more. 
Little things count. Informational pieces, such as brochures about our services, flyers on archival donations, e-greeting cards during holiday seasons were designed in-house and sent out to the friends of the JGH Archives. There are other things that we have been doing, such as paying appraisal visits to doctor’s office, making sure we are heard by the higher administration by regularly giving short but informative presentations to the hospital’s Senior Management Team, getting involved in community events and education programs, networking with fellow archivists by attending either national conferences or small and intimate local round-table forums, just to name a few. All these endeavors contribute to the sustainability and the growth of our collections.

Outreach programs promote good will and a positive long-term relationship between an archival institution and its constituents. For a hospital archive like us, promotion and visibility play a key role in encouraging donations from the hospital community and the community beyond. It is our hope that through a variety of outreach endeavors, our existing and potential users will gain better understanding of our work and become more engaged in helping us keep and grow the JGH legacy for this and future generations. All these endeavors contribute to the sustainability and the growth of our collections.







 
 
By Janice Rosen
CJHN / CJCCCNA

What’s the good of having a heritage if no one knows about it? More and more people rely on the internet for information about every subject that catches their attention. But information found online can vary widely as to its usefulness and accuracy. In the interest of providing quality information about Montreal Jewish history and culture, I would like to direct your attention to a new resource that is fast becoming an essential tool for any study of our communal heritage.  

The Canadian Jewish Heritage Network is a web presence located at www.cjhn.ca. It links and showcases the resources of several major Canadian Jewish archives and museums. Begun in 2010 with two Montreal partners, Canadian Jewish Congress Charities Committee National Archives (CJCCCNA) and the Jewish Public Library Archives (JPL-A), the network has now grown to include information about the holdings of the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre (MHMC), the Saint John Jewish Historical Museum (SJJHM), the Congregation Shaar Hashomayim Museum and Archives and The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue Archives. One or more new partner institutions are expected to join in the near future. Development of the CJHN was initially made possible by a grant from the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Family Foundation. It continues to flourish thanks to the generous support of the Alexander Dworkin Foundation for Jewish Archives.

What can you do at CJHN.CA?

EXPLORE HERITAGE MATERIALS:

Since the site’s partners include Montreal’s two oldest synagogues as well as a Jewish museum that is a prime destination for visitors to Montreal, we offer a treasure trove of objects and artwork to explore in addition to a wealth of documents and photographs.

The site features a detailed searchable index of archival and museum listings, from general collection summaries down to individual item descriptions for some of the holdings. Many descriptions are illustrated with images or linked to multi-page scanned documents. The site offers a quick reference keyword search bar as well as Advanced Search options that can be used to locate materials of particular interest, or in particular institutions. Checkboxes on the Advanced Search page also provide easy access to digitized images and documents, as well as to recordings and video files. Once found, materials can be shared and saved using the Share buttons or the Selection Cart.

RESEARCH FAMILY HISTORY:

For Montreal-based families as well as for those with roots in small communities of Western and Maritime Provinces of Canada, the CJHN offers a varied and ever-expanding range of Genealogical resources. They include Jewish Immigrant Aid Services client name lists from 1922-1952, individual farm settler reports from Western Canada and Quebec dating from 1906-1951, translated Yiddish obituaries from the Keneder Adler newspaper of 1908-1932, Hebrew Sick Benefit Association of Montreal's membership book listings of 1897-1905, detailed information about Jewish servicemen who died while serving in the Canadian forces, as well as over 180 years of Saint John New Brunswick Jewish family listings, including burials information dating back to 1873, hundreds of full text obituaries, detailed photographs of tombstones, and business and residential directory details from 1863-1999.

This information can be searched from the general keyword search box along with all other database listings on the site, or you can focus on specific genealogical questions by using the Genealogy Search page, which also has its own Selection Cart.

EXPERIENCE SELECTIONS FROM THE COLLECTIONS:

Digitized displays and sampled collections can also be seen through the Experience section of the site, which is designed to bring the more graphic elements of collections together where they can be enjoyed by the casual browser.

ENRICH YOUR ARCHIVING SKILLS:

This section of the CJHN offers Outreach help to individuals and community organizations not yet benefitting from proper archival care of their historic materials.

EDUCATE AND CARRY HERITAGE STUDIES FURTHER:

Our Educate section offers a selection of teaching guides targeting students of various levels and backgrounds.

GO MOBILE!

The CJHN also has a mobile interface designed for those on the go, for answers to spur-of-the-moment questions, or just as a way to pass a little time exploring the many facets of Montreal Jewry’s long and varied history.

Whether at home, at school, or on the road; come visit us today!



 
 
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By Shannon Hodge, Jewish Public Library Archives
What is all of it and what do we do with it all?
At the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, movie goers get a glimpse of the fictional Hanger 51 where the US government placed the Ark of the Covenant along with, ostensibly, other mysterious treasures such as the alien from the Roswell crash.  When people unfamiliar with archives and museum collections ask me what we do, I jokingly tell them that we all work in Hanger 51-esque locations; rows and rows of boxes containing the world’s most important knowledge and information.

The difference though, and it’s an important one, is that we don’t try to hide our collections.  Librarians catalogue books so patrons can easily find them by author, subject, titles, and so on.  Likewise, archive and museum staffs arrange and describe their material so that we can retrieve it for researchers. 

When material is donated to our institutions we can spend as little as a few hours to months to years, depending on the size and complexity of the donation, arranging and describing the material. 
  • It all has to be appraised to check for physical damage or dangers such as mould and insects.
  • Once the material is known to be safe we look for and record in descriptions its details in listings called “finding aids” or in our databases.  These details include: what the material is, who created it, when it was created, when it was used, its physical description, who donated it to us, any important notes about the material and so on.
  • We handle basic preservation of the material (to learn more about this preservation, check out this earlier blog!).
  • We might make a decision here as well to digitize the material for easy access if we feel there is or could be a demand for the collection.
Arrangement and description of archival and museum material is also fraught with various difficulties in our quest to create descriptions that are helpful to the public.  Here are just a few examples: 

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Documents
Documents like diaries, minutes and correspondence are rich with historical detail.  But how do we reflect all of this detail in our descriptions?  Often, descriptions for these materials are summaries of important points and dates and it is up to the researcher to discover all the details.  That discovery is also half the fun of researching in archives and museums!  Indices of this type of material can be created to help researchers but if you’re working with a collection that has thousands of letters, this work can take years.

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Documents
Documents like diaries, minutes and correspondence are rich with historical detail.  But how do we reflect all of this detail in our descriptions?  Often, descriptions for these materials are summaries of important points and dates and it is up to the researcher to discover all the details.  That discovery is also half the fun of researching in archives and museums!  Indices of this type of material can be created to help researchers but if you’re working with a collection that has thousands of letters, this work can take years.

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Objects
One of my favourite activities to play with students visiting the Archives is to pull out our kitchen hatchet from the Eric and Tilya Helfield Collection.  The hatchet was a normal kitchen tool of the past; how else could you prepare chicken for your family’s dinner?  The reactions of the students range from horror to fascination.  After all, none of them would have even considered that you would use this object for this purpose let alone that it was “normal”.  But sometimes we have these reactions too!  Most of the time when an object (also known as artefacts) arrive we can find enough documentation to help us describe the material.  There are times though where we have to deal with researching not only what the object is made of, how old it is, and what the provenance is but also what in the world it was even used for. 

Visit the Canadian Jewish Heritage Network (www.cjhn.ca) and check out some museum and archive descriptions.  Play with some searches and see what you can discover from the community’s (open door) Hanger 51s. 


 
 
Announcing the first annual virtual Jewish Montreal heritage week, an awareness campaign which will take place from May 5th to 12th, 2013. The project was initiated by:

This special week will feature daily blog postings, virtual galleries, and web shorts highlighting the work and museum and archival collections of Jewish Montreal’s impressive heritage institutions.  All material will be available here at www.jewishmontrealheritageweek.org.  CHECK BACK OFTEN FOR NEW ADDITIONS TO THE SITE!

On Thursday, May 9th (10am to 5pm) the lobby of the Cummings Building will be open to the public in a Living Exhibit.  Tour tables staffed by each heritage organization and discover little-seen treasures and find out more about how these materials are preserved for future generations.

As a special featured event, on May 12th a photograph scavenger hunt called (Re)Collection will be hosted by the Interactive Museum of Jewish Montreal and the Jewish Public Library Archives.  Participants will race with teams around the city discovering historical sites as well as photographing the current sites and colours of the Jewish community. (Re)Collection is made possible through the support of GEN J. To register or for more information on this event, contact info@imjm.ca.

Jewish Montreal Heritage Week is sponsored by the Peter and Ellen Jacobs Virtual Archives Fund of the Jewish Public Library. For more information or to subscribe to the event’s virtual guest list, contact us!