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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

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Plaques commemorate historic Jewish sites in Toronto

Tags: Canada Cecil Street Toronto Gordon Perlmutter Gurion Hyman Ostrovtzer Synagogue
Gordon Perlmutter and Gurion Hyman stand outside the Ostrovtzer Synagogue in 1938, and again on the same doorstep some 76 years later in 2014 (Below). [photos courtesy Ontario Jewish Archives Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre and Bill Gladstone.

Back in 1938, two Jewish boys posed for a photo on the steps of Toronto’s Ostrovtzer Synagogue on the north side of Cecil Street, just east of Spadina Avenue.

Roughly 76 years after that first photo was snapped, Gurion Hyman and Gordon Perlmutter returned to the same spot last week and had their picture snapped again.

The occasion was a plaque ceremony hosted by Heritage Toronto, commemorating the street’s rich Jewish history. The ceremony took place inside the former synagogue, which is now the Cecil Street Community Centre.

Hyman’s family once operated the well-known Jewish bookstore Hyman’s Books on Spadina Avenue. Perlmutter is a retired dentist whose family once operated a bakery on College Street. They and their families were among scores of people who attended the July 9 ceremony.

The building itself is the most visible relic of the street’s Jewish past. A chandelier that once belonged to the synagogue still hangs in the main hall, and a marble plaque engraved in Hebrew with the names of donors still adorns the lobby. Hebrew is also visible in the cornerstones that grace the exterior. 

The Jewish Old Folks Home, the Farband, the Folks Farein and other Jewish institutions once lined the street, which also boasted the residences of the family of politician J. B. Salsberg and members of the Langner rabbinical dynasty.

After the plaque was unveiled, many attendees joined free walking tours of the Spadina neighbourhood hosted by the Ontario Jewish Archives.

Plaques have been placed at more than a dozen important sites of Jewish interest around the city under Heritage Toronto’s Jewish Historical Plaque Initiative. 

They include Christie Pits, Scheurer House, the YM-YWHA, the original Mount Sinai Hospital on Yorkville Avenue, the Balfour Building, the Labor Lyceum, the Primrose Club, Tip Top Tailors, the Kiever Synagogue, the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of Toronto, and the Jewish Old Folks Home (later Baycrest).

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