By FRANCES KRAFT
For Faye Blum, lead archivist on the Ontario Jewish Archives’ (OJA) recently-launched Bathurst Manor project, a possible silver lining to the current pandemic is that people who have lived, worked, or attended school in “the Manor” might have more time to look for memorabilia.
Although the project wasn’t promoted more “officially” until April, Blum – who grew up in the north Toronto suburb herself – ran an initial focus group in February. Early outreach efforts on social media, as well as through UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and word of mouth, have yielded “a terrific response” and more than 40 conversations that have revealed “powerful narratives.”
Common themes and memories of life in the Manor include houses bought on a handshake deal, the childhood freedom of running in and out of people’s houses, and the importance of transit for early residents in the 1950s, Blum told the CJR.
As well, Jewish organizations, synagogues and local shops “figure prominently. It was virtually part of everybody’s experience to go to the cigar store [at Wilmington Plaza].”
The neighbourhood, home to Canadian-born and Holocaust survivor families, was “such a big part of their life,” she said, adding that it’s not uncommon to hear that people who grew up in Bathurst Manor thought the whole world was Jewish.
Some demographic records from 1961 put the Jewish population at 75 percent, Blum said, but anecdotal evidence would suggest a much higher proportion.
Oral histories, an integral part of the project, have been put on hold until the fall, with the hope that they can be conducted in person. The OJA has received funding for a City of Toronto Spark grant to train students to conduct such interviews.
Part of the impetus for the project was the redevelopment of UJA Federation’s Sherman Campus, which houses the Prosserman Jewish Community Centre and community offices, including the OJA. The campus, on Bathurst Street north of Sheppard Avenue West, is at the eastern boundary of the Manor. The neighbourhood extends from Sheppard to Finch Avenue West, and from Bathurst to Dufferin Street.
As well, the OJA has a relatively small number of holdings for Bathurst Manor, compared to other historic Toronto Jewish neighbourhoods.
Blum is interested in learning what drew residents to Bathurst Manor, and what life was like there. Part of her work involves finding evidence to corroborate residents’ stories – items like photographs, home movies, correspondence, floor plans, and documents like brochures, house deeds, and agreements of purchase and sale.
One such document, a new home brochure, is featured in an OJA podcast (https://soundcloud.com/user-498734461-627117523/in-the-manor-a-community-designed-for-tomorrow?fbclid=IwAR3-7ozE9IS68yfqWP4CSwa_BSWEYfotVzWaRpJaFwOPssPbXSpQ_dKlwSQ).
“The fact that that brochure exists is something we were really excited by,” Blum said.
A home movie of Blum’s brother’s 1965 birthday party in the basement of her parents’ home is also the type of thing she is looking for.
As well, “we’d love to collect business records, which could be anything from storefront photos, stationery, business cards, some kind of signage, recipes if it’s a bakery.”
Another item showing life in the Manor that stands out for her is a photograph of two little girls all dressed up in new clothes for the High Holidays.
“Learning where people come from is super-interesting,” Blum said. “I am excited for the opportunity to share back some of what we’ve collected to date.”
For further information or to donate Bathurst Manor memorabilia, go to http://ontariojewisharchives.org/Programs/the-MANOR, call
416-635-5391, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frances Kraft is a former reporter for The Canadian Jewish News. She spent two years blogging about food and writing, and has a weakness for chocolate.