21 April 2008

Toronto: Founding a Jewish cemetery

If you have roots in Toronto, this story talks about the area's 11 Jewish cemeteries . Today, the community is about 200,000 strong.

There is also a video on Holy Blossom Cemetery.

Nine are active, two are closed to burials:

• Pape Avenue Cemetery (Holy Blossom or Jews' Cemetery), 1849 (closed)

• Jones Avenue Cemetery, 1883 (partially active)

• Dawes Road Cemetery, 1903 (active)

• Roselawn Avenue Cemetery, 1905 (active)

• Lambton Mills Cemetery (Royal York Rd.), 1909 (active)

• Mount Sinai Memorial Park, 1920 (active)

• Bathurst Lawn Memorial Park / Woods Cemetery, 1929 (active)

• Holy Blossom Memorial Park, 1929 (active)

• Beth Tzedek Memorial Park, 1949 (active)

• Shaarei Shomayim Cemetery / Machzika B'nai Israel, 1933 (closed)

• Pardes Shalom / Toronto Hebrew Memorial Park, 1975 (active)

Over the next few weeks, volunteers from the Jewish Genealogical Society of Toronto will visit every grave in the area, armed with digital cameras to photograph the stones to record the inscriptions for posterity.

Holy Blossom was also known as Pape Avenue Cemetery or Jews' Cemetery, and in the area where the community's roots began some 160 years ago.

Jews settling a new area are charged with first organizing a consecrated cemetery before a synagogue is established.

In 1849, there were only about three dozen Jews in the city; two businessmen (jeweller Judah Joseph and piano maker Abraham Nordheimer)paid £20 to purchase land east of town for the cemetery. Joseph's son Samuel was ill this provided impetus to the plot purchase, as the closest Jewish cemeteries were in Montreal and Buffalo. The boy is believed to be the first person buried in the cemetery in 1850.

Ontario Jewish Archives director Ellen Scheinberg says Pape Cemetery was the resting place for all the city's first Jewish families and for others who came later.

Read more about the location, and the cemetery which closed some 70 years ago. Visitors still come to see relatives' graves.

While none of the earliest tombstones survives – all that is known of Samuel Joseph's grave is that it was near the gate – the history in the local Jewish community can nonetheless be read in those that remain.

There are names and dates, of course, but there are also subtle hints about the community's identity. Birthplaces listed on the oldest stones include villages in England while Germany and Eastern Europe are on later ones. Eventually, Toronto is listed.

As well, some of the original stones are inscribed entirely in Hebrew or German, while later ones contain a mix of Hebrew, German and English.

The city's first synagogue was built a decade after the cemetery on Pape. Today there are 118 synagogues and congregations in the Toronto area and some 80 Jewish schools, as well as many Jewish organizations and institutions.


  1. Hello.
    Can you tell me if your photography project was ever completed and if so can I pay to have a copy of a specific stone (Zivian, Abraham 1934 JOWBR-4819)?
    If so can you email me at

    Many thanks

    Sid K

  2. Sandra S. Frey10:43 PM

    I am trying to locate the name of the cemetary my grandparents were buried in. I don't know the dates of their deaths, however, I believe it to be late 1950's - mid to late 1960's. They came to Toronto sometime in the 1920's - 1930's from Poland. Their names were Ben Steinberg and Anna Steinberg. I don't have any further information. If you can't help, please give me an idea who may be able to help. Thanking you in advance.

    Sandra S. Frey

  3. Ostrovtzer society......in Toronto ......Dvoire Katz and Yoise Katz

  4. I am from Brazil and i trying to locate the old jewish cemetery
    Ostrovtzer Society ......my grandparents Dvoire and Yoise Katz.
    In Toronto.....I am going to Canada in october......thank you
    Deborah Kniagansky Growald