From the turn of the 20th century the Jewish community added considerably to the rich and vibrant ethnic diversity of Sault Ste. Marie.
The Federal Bureau of Statistics (now StatsCan) reported that in 1901 there were 8 Jews in Sault Ste. Marie. By 1911,there were 80. The Jewish population hovered in the 90 to 120 range but by 1962 there were 142 and the community was perhaps at its peak in terms of population and activity.
The Sault Ste. Marie Jewish Community has always been an International community with the two Sault Ste. Marie’s separated by the St. Mary’s River. When the first Jews arrived in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, the Soo on the Michigan side of the river was the larger and more prosperous city. The Jews of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan had a close relationship with their friends on the Canadian side. A Synagogue was never built on the Michigan side of the River, so those wishing to attend Services or social events where always welcome on the Canadian side. American members of Congregation Beth Jacob were instrumental in helping to build and maintain the community.
“In the early years Services were held above stores on Queen Street…….Prior to the 1940’s there were actually two different locations where services were held. Past stories talked about the fierce but friendly competition among the businessmen in the Community; maybe that was the reason there were two congregations? Other theories involved differences in Religious affiliation, or simply different friends grouped together. Whatever the true story of the original two meeting places for Services, by the 1940’s it became apparent that for the community to survive, these two groups needed to bond together to form one Synagogue. The Sault’s only synagogue opened in1946 and continues to operate to this day. The Synagogue to become what we know today as Congregation Beth Jacob would become the heart and soul of the Sault Ste. Marie Jewish Community.”
There were a few members that served in the First World War and there were many more that served with the Canadian Military during the Second World War.
The 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s saw many businesses opened by members of the Jewish community. They were (to name a few):
- Traders Metal – Cohen
- Allen’s Ladies Wear – Torgov
- Algoma Hotel – Cohen
- Friedman’s Department Store – Davis Clothing-Davis
- Bernard Shoes – Garshowitz
- Bregman’s Furniture – Bregman
- Con-Ell Furs – Kates
- Fishman’s Men’s Wear – Fishman
- Hub Clothing – Basest
- Richardson’s Ladies Wear – Richardson
- Kleiman’s Sport Store – Kleiman
- Algoma Bakery – Wiseman
- Haft’s Furniture – Haft
- Daiter’s Cleaners – Daiter
- Bert’s Auto Supply – Segal
The men and women of the Jewish community were highly committed to the city and volunteered long hours to help develop the many service clubs and institutions we now take for granted. Many men belonged to Legion, Kiwanis, Rotary, Masons, Shriners, Oddfellows. The women joined Rebekah’s, Legion and Hadassah-WIZO. They sat on community boards and help fund raise to better the whole of Sault Ste. Marie.
The Jewish community today is smaller in numbers. Many of the founders have passed on, and many of the next generations have moved to larger centers. But the community, though small, remains vibrant and active.