Friday, August 8, 2008

Canada: Former Prairie Synagogue on the Move in Alberta

Canada: Former Prairie Synagogue on the Move in Alberta

by Samuel D. Gruber

A few weeks ago we reported about an abandoned wooden synagogue in western Latvia, and suggested that this might be a good candidate to removal to one of Latvia’s “village museums,” (known in Eastern Europe as scansens). Little did we know that just such a move was being planned for a wooden synagogue in Western Canada. Ruth Ellen Gruber reported the move this week in her blog that the former Montefiore Institute (Synagogue) in Sibbald, Alberta (Canada) is being moved to the Heritage Park in Calgary.

The small wooden synagogue, built on the Canadian prairie in 1913 was on the move in June, as a flatbed truck carried the small structure to Calgary’s Heritage Park where it will be installed and restored as a relic of now lost part of Canada’s past, and as a talisman for Calgary’s modern Jewish community.

Click here for a picture of the synagogue being moved

The synagogue was built as part of the Montefiore Agricultural Colony near the town of Sibbald in 1913 and was in use for thirteen years. Later it was used as a residence, and then abandoned. Its rediscovery, recovery and restoration is a project of the “Little Synagogue on the Prairie Project.”

Jewish life on the Canadian prairie was documented by Harry Gutkin in his 1980 book Journey into Our Heritage: The story of the Jewish People in the Canadian West, as well as in several articles by Cyril Edel Leonoff. Most of the agricultural colonies were located in Saskatchewan. Now city Jews (and non-Jews) won’t have to travel far to get a taste of that past. The total cost of the move and restoration is estimated at $1 million dollars Canadian.

There are many precedents for moving historic buildings, and several small synagogues similar in size and materials to this one have been moved in the United States, notably in San Diego and San Leandro (California). Masonry synagogues have been moved in Madison (Wisconsin) and Washington, DC. Of course, parts of many synagogues from around the world have been brought to Israel – some adapted for new use, and some restored in museum settings.

By the way, there are still places where synagogues associated with agricultural colonies survive intact, and even in use. In Southern New Jersey there are several of these. In fact, I gave my first conference paper ever about synagogue architecture about the synagogues in these rural Jewish settlements. It was a session for ISJM in 1988. I'll try to blog about these another time.

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