April 13-17, 2010
Denver, Colorado, USA

Demonstrations: Description

Ontario's Small Jewish Communities Virtual Exhibit

Ellen Scheinberg, Ontario Jewish Archives, Canada

Within Ontario, as in other Canadian provinces, Jews have tended to reside in large cities. As a result, most academics and researchers have tended to focus on Toronto – and to a lesser extent, Ottawa, Hamilton, Windsor and London – in their studies. Consequently, very little is known about Jewish life in most of the small communities scattered across the province. This virtual exhibit attempts to redress this imbalance, examining 11 small Ontario Jewish communities.

This virtual exhibit is the most ambitious undertaking that the Ontario Jewish Archives has ever tackled. It includes approximately 250 pages of original historic text, over 500 photographs, 109 audio and video clips of interviews undertaken by the OJA, 94 archival documents and 18 maps and architectural plans. It also includes hypertext links to pertinent web sites, a number of slideshows, and finally, pop up screens of the digitized items that are featured on the site.

The project was made possible thanks to a grant, which we received in 2005 from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The initiative involved partnerships with the Regional Jewish Communities of Ontario (RJCO) and the Ontario Historical Society (OHS). In turn, further partnerships were sought out and secured with local heritage organizations, synagogues, community organizations and individuals. In all, there were 15 staff and contract workers and close to 200 partners and donors involved in creating this virtual exhibit.

One of the reasons that we decided to adopt a virtual exhibit rather than a physical display was to make this product as accessible to the public as possible. While geography often separates and, in some cases, isolates individuals living in different areas of this province, the Internet can bring people closer and allow them to share their respective experiences and histories. As a result, the intent of this display is not only to document and promote the histories of these communities in a dynamic and educational manner, but also to show the commonalities that exist between them, and ultimately create links between these 11 communities and the public.

The 11 communities that were included in the display are: Cornwall, Belleville, Kingston, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Kitchener/Waterloo, Owen Sound, North Bay, Sudbury and Thunder Bay. In the future, we will likely engage in private fundraising to incorporate several more communities that have important and fascinating stories to contribute to this display. Unfortunately, the synagogues within many of these communities that were not initially included have closed, due to the declining Jewish population, particularly the young people who have relocated to the big cities typically in pursuit of educational and employment opportunities. This display will help keep the memories of those communities alive, capturing the vibrant and warm atmosphere that characterized them during their heyday.

We are hoping to make this site as inclusive as possible. There are so many important stories to be told about Jewish life in small-town Ontario, from the local scrap-metal peddler in Niagara Falls to the fur trader in Thunder Bay.

Demonstration: Demonstrations - 1 [Close Up]

Keywords: Ontario,Jewish,communities,religion,politics,business