How the Lost Montefiore Institute Synagogue Was Found and
Came to Calgary’s Heritage Park Historical Village
By Irena Karshenbaum, Founder & President, The Little Synagogue on the Prairie Project Society
Jews Arrive in Alberta
The first Jews to settle permanently in the vast area that in 1905 would become the Province of Alberta tended to gravitate to the larger centres. In 1889, Calgary, already a bustling town in what was then the Northwest Territories, was in the midst of real estate speculation when the first of these settlers, Jacob Diamond, a Lithuanian immigrant, planted his roots there with his wife, Rachel (born Maria Stoodley).
Edmonton, 300 kilometres north of Calgary, is where Abraham and Rebecca Cristall settled in 1893, anchoring that town’s Jewish community.
Even though there were independent Jewish farmers working the land in various settlements across the young province, in places like Alliance, Acadia Valley, Cochrane, Rockyford, Okotoks, three Jewish bloc settlements emerged. All three were clustered in eastern Alberta. The independent Jewish farmers and the three bloc settlements — Trochu (1905), Rumsey (1907) and most importantly for our story, the Montefiore Colony (1910) — received assistance from the Jewish Colonization Association, with funds from Baron Hirsch’s bequest.
The clustering of the settlements occurred because Canada at the time espoused a bloc settlement policy. Sir Clifford Sifton championed this policy during his time as Minister of the Interior. The bloc policy allowed immigrants from the same ethnic group to settle near each other so they could create communities of support. Many ethnic groups formed bloc settlements — German, Mennonite, African American, Ukrainian and many others — Jewish included.
The Montefiore Colony
In 1910, Bill Manolson and Louis Schacter filed for homesteads northwest of the village of Sibbald, located 5 kilometres east of the Saskatchewan border, establishing the Montefiore Colony. Twenty Jewish farmers soon followed.
By 1914, the Colony had 53 residents. In 1916, the farmers decided that the colony was large enough that they needed a synagogue. To build the synagogue, they applied for and received a loan of $300 from the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA). They raised the remaining $1,200 from community members. Even though partial funding came from Baron Hirsch’s JCA, the colonists named their synagogue the Montefiore Institute, in memory of Sir Moses Montefiore. Sir Moses was an Italian-born, British Jewish philanthropist who had passed away thirty years earlier, in 1886, at the age of 100.: The Little Synagogue on the Canadian Prairie Continue reading