Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Jewish Families in Brantford & Brant County

Our monthly meeting for September was held on Sunday, September 25th. Our guest speaker was Gerry Miller who talked about the Jewish families of Brantford and Brant County. The biggest influx of Jewish families into Brant occurred in the early 1900s - between 1900 and late 1920. Most of the immigrants were Russian or Polish. These families left their home countries to get away from persecution, a total intolerance to their religion and culture and to get away from severe prejudice. They were very religious. These early immigrants mostly spoke Yiddish and kept within their very tight community. Many of the men set up as merchants or peddlers.

Mr Miller spoke of the merchants along the south side of Colborne Street. Many of the names were familiar to members of the audience: Henkle, White, Beckerman, Nyman, Tulchinsky, Yampolsky, Kanter, Finkelstein, Silverstein.

These immigrant families settled near their place of worship on Albion, Pearl, Palace and Waterloo streets. Mr Miller spoke of the first synagogue, which was on the corner of Pearl and Palace. Until it was recently refurbished and made into student housing, the red brick building still had the original stain glass windows with the Star of David. The second synagogue was on Waterloo and was named Beth David in honour of David Axler. Louis Henckle was one of the founders of the new synagogue.

Second generation Jewish families were better educated and tended to be professionals like doctors (Ben Henry, Mo Zaltz) or lawyers. Later generations  tended to move to larger centres like Toronto or even to the States, and slowly the Jewish population in Brantford dwindled. The synagogue closed in 2001.

Mr Miller's talk was a wonderful walk down memory lane for many of our audience members. Our own Al Adams recalled having a "scrap route" when he was 10. He said it started on Water Street and then onto Colborne. Al dealt with many of the scrap dealers who were the early Jewish families in Brantford. The talk provided some wonder social history about our City.


  1. Hi Christine
    I found your site doing a search for information on Ben Henry who had been my doctor throughout my childhood and then even for sometime after I'd gotten out of the navy. In fact Doctor Henry was my doctor 'til I left Brantford, it seems now, permanently. Anyway I had wondered what had happened to the Temple close to Grace Church, I'd not been able to find it doing a tour round a bouts with Google street view. Good thing likely no one mentioned some of the awfulness re Jewish people maybe typical to most places in Canada at the time. As I recall, I grew up Irish RC, Henderson Survey - a posh place in my day, was restricted. The PC slogan for no Jewish people allowed. I can't remember if the buggers would let RCs in but likely did. I worked as a kid for the Stren family that owned Texpack. They had a home close to Grace Church on Albion Street I think with a bit of a warehouse out the back. Grandfather Stren would come out the back and check on my older brother and me to make sure we were not being devils & I think I remember him swearing at us in Yiddish. A highlight of my growing up memories, I think.

  2. Thanks for the comments, Geoff. I laughed at Grandfather Stren swearing at you and your brother in Yiddish! I was fortunate to have gone to high school in Hamilton in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood. I learned so much during that time and am forever grateful for the lessons in dignity and acceptance - I wasn't one of them, but they never once made a big deal out of it!