Canada was once dotted with synagogues as Jews fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe at the turn of the last century looked for new opportunities to rebuild their lives in the wake of war and conflict. Jewish merchants, tradespeople, and farmers quickly became an integral part of small town Canada, and synagogues where soon a fixture of communities of every size.
But by the beginning of the Second World War, with Canada’s “Closed Door” policy against Jews, small Jewish communities began to decline. With immigration halted, larger centres like Toronto and Montreal had a magnetic effect on second generation Jews, offering economic opportunities, higher education, upward mobility, and proximity to a larger Jewish community. In towns and rural centres, Jewish communities could no longer sustain themselves. The synagogues closed.
Today Owen Sound's Beth Ezekiel Synagogue, a designated building under Ontario’s Heritage Act, remains the last example of the early small town synagogue that was once so common across Canada -- the next largest community with an active synagogue is more than double Owen Sound's population.*
Yet despite dwindling numbers and concerns for sustainability over the years, Owen Sound's Jewish community has managed to survive and today is enjoying renewed optimism. E-commuting, early retirement, and a longing for a simpler life are returning Jewish families to the area. Beth Ezekiel’s membership has grown nearly four-fold in the past few years. The Hebrew School and the offer of a Jewish community in this largely rural area has become an attractive feature for Jews looking to settle outside of the city, and even a drawing card for the community at large as it seeks to attract young professionals to the area.
Explore the topics below to learn more about Beth Ezekiel, our community,
and why this little shul holds such an important place in our lives.
Museum Exhibit: The Story of Beth Ezekiel Synagogue