In honour of Canada’s 150th birthday, The CJN presents 40 profiles of some of the most prominent Jewish Canadians throughout our history.
During her last weeks, when she knew she was going to die, Ruth Goldbloom visited the office of a woman she knew with bags of her own clothes. She told her to give them to women in a disadvantaged community who would benefit from them.
This story would not surprise anyone who knew Goldbloom.
Born in Cape Breton in 1923, Goldbloom was one of six children born to Rose Schwartz, a Russian immigrant who was widowed at a young age. Inspired by her mother’s work ethic and dedication to community, Goldbloom became a volunteer fundraiser. She raised millions in support of health, education, and cultural organizations.
“I learned all I know about fundraising from Ruth Goldbloom. I would literally follow her around a room and watch how she grabbed people with her passion, and persuaded influential people to support her cause,” said Jennifer Gillivan, president and CEO, IWK Foundation. “I also know a side of Ruth that got the new immigrant a bus ticket, a job, clothes, education or a connection to help find a job. Ruth was passionate about the underdog and no matter what you did or didn’t do in life, when she was talking to you, it felt like you were the most important person in the world.”
Goldbloom moved to Halifax in 1967, where she was involved with several organizations, including the Metro United Way, Mount Saint Vincent University, IWK Health Centre and Symphony Nova Scotia. She received many accolades and was an officer of the Order of Canada and member of the Order of Nova Scotia.
Goldbloom was married to renowned pediatrician, Richard Goldbloom for 66 years, and by all accounts, they did everything together. They had three children, seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
As co-founder and chair of the Pier 21 Society, Goldbloom raised $9 million in donations to restore the former ocean liner terminal and immigration shed and spearheaded the $7 million Nation Builders campaign to provide ongoing resources to the National Historic Site. In 1999, Pier 21 re-opened as a museum to celebrate the one million immigrants who passed through its doors.
“She didn’t understand the concept of the words ‘no’ or ‘can’t.’ She decided the museum needed to open on Canada Day,” said Marie Chapman, CEO of the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, who was one of the first people Goldbloom hired in 1998. “The architects didn’t think it was possible. She said it would happen, even if we were there the night before, painting the walls and cleaning the washrooms. She refused to accept another date. Every other person thought it was impossible.
“Pier 21 would not have existed in so many respects without her. She could see what no one else could see.”
And yes, Pier 21 indeed opened on July 1, 1999.
Chapman also remembers Goldbloom for her “wicked sense of humour.
“If someone was upset, she would tell the funniest jokes. And that woman could tell a story. She was maybe five feet tall. We had a Ruth box that we would put behind the podium. She would step up and just fill the room. Give her a microphone and a crowd and she enchanted them all.”
Goldbloom died of cancer in 2012 at age 88. Gillivan remembers spending time with her a few weeks before she died.
“I found Ruth on her deck at the cottage full of life, smiling, cracking jokes and eating cherries and talking about how wonderful nature was that you could have a season with such sweet fruit,” Gillivan says. “I can still see her on her deck, holding court, eating her cherries with the sun reflecting on her and knowing I was in the company of greatness.
“Each of us is unique but now and then, a rare person comes among us, a soul so dedicated to making things better and seizing all that life offers. That is who Ruth Goldbloom was.”