Congregation Emanu-El (Victoria, British Columbia)

Congregation Emanu-El (Victoria, British Columbia)
Congregation Emanu-El
Basic information
Location Blanshard Street, Victoria, British Columbia, on Vancouver Island, Canada
Affiliation Judaism
Rite Nusach Sefard
Status Active
Leadership Rabbi

Congregation Emanu-El is a synagogue in Victoria, British Columbia, on Vancouver Island. It is the oldest surviving synagogue in Canada.[1] It can also boast of being the oldest synagogue building on the west coast of North America.[2] Founded by 1859 when the cemetery is known to have been dedicated, in 1863 the congregation built the synagogue that is still in use. It is affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. The building is a National Historic Site of Canada as designated by the Heritage Society of British Columbia.



Designed by John Wright, architect, the synagogue, located on Blanshard Street at Pandora Avenue beside a twentieth century community building, was built in 1863, [3] during the Victoria building boom caused by the discovery of gold on the mainland nearby in 1858. The first Jews to settle on Vancouver Island came mostly from the United States during the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush.[4]

The synagogue is said to have been the first building in town to have its cornerstone laid by the recently organized Victoria chapter of the Freemasons.[5] A second cornerstone was laid on the same day by a member of the congregation's Building Committee. A time capsule was ceremoniously buried. It included not only the congregation's constitution, a list of donors tho the building fund, some coins, and a copy of the local newspaper, the British Colonist, still publishing today as the Victoria Times-Colonist, but the full membership lists of the Germania Sing Verein and French Benevolent Society of Victoria.[5]

The dedication was marked by a procession of benevolent societies of what appears to have been every religion and ethnicity resident in the young city. The marchers in the procession are known to have included not only the Hebrew Benevolent Society, but the French Benevolent Society, the St. Andrew's Society, the Germania Sing Verein (a German Singing Club), and the Fraternity of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons. The band from HMS Topaze, a 24-gun, Liffey class, Royal Navy frigate, played.[4][5]

The congregation's cemetery on Cedar Hill Road in Cedar Hill (Greater Victoria), dedicated in 1859.[6]


The building is in Romanesque Revival style. The facade of the two-story, brick building features a rose window and a corbelled gable. The ceiling of the interior is domed.[7][8] The building was renovated in the 1980s.[9]

In the traditional plan of the sanctuary, Torah is read to the congregation from the bimah and the Torah scrolls are stored in the aron kodesh on the east wall. The congregation face towards the east, and Jerusalem, in praying. The ornamentation features symbols such as Stars of David, signs of the zodiac and natural forms. [10]

Notable members

See also


  1. ^ Sheldon Levitt Revised: Julia Gersovitz. "''The Canadien Encyclopedia''". Retrieved 2010-10-13. 
  2. ^ "Walking Tour 2 in Victoria at Frommer's". Retrieved 2010-10-13. 
  3. ^ "Dictionary of Architects in Canada". Retrieved November 16, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b Colonist, Times (2008-12-07). ""City celebrates synagogue's start, The cornerstone-laying ceremony for Victoria's first synagogue was a grand affair and revealed how rich the city's cultural and religious character was during the 19th century", ''Times-Colonist'', Victoria, December 7, 2008". Retrieved 2010-10-13. 
  5. ^ a b c "''The Synagogue of Congregation Emanu-El'', U.Vic website". Retrieved 2010-10-13. 
  6. ^ "The IAJGS International Jewish Cemetery Project has moved". Retrieved 2010-10-13. 
  7. ^ Sheldon Levitt Revised: Julia Gersovitz. "''The Canadian Encyclopedia''". Retrieved 2010-10-13. 
  8. ^ A guide to Canadian architectural styles, By Shannon Ricketts, Leslie Maitland, Jacqueline Hucker, Broadview Press, 2003, p. 98
  9. ^ The Jewish travel guide, Betsy Sheldon, Hunter Publishing, 2001, p. 243
  10. ^ PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0007839 "Canadian Encyclopedia". PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0007839. Retrieved November 16, 2011. 

External links

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