A hub of Jewish Life in Vancouver
Vancouver’s first Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver (JCCGV) at 2675 Oak Street (now the BC Lung Association Building) was an exciting hub of Jewish life in Vancouver. A centre for Jewish community affairs, recreation, education, and socialization, the meeting rooms, athletic facilities, Sunday school classes, socials, and “simchas” (celebrations) held in the historic walls of the original JCCGV all contributed to a flourishing Jewish community in Vancouver for over three decades.
“The old JCC was the meeting place in Vancouver for all the Jews young and old until the new JCC was built,” says Dorothy Grad. “Congregation Beth Israel held Friday night services upstairs in the auditorium until they built their synagogue… Sundays the kids met at the JCC for AZA and Young Judea meetings… It was an interesting hub for the community. We all grew up there and loved it.”
Built on the instigation and financial support of Samuel Lodge B’nai Brith, Vancouver’s first JCCGV – a substantial stone and masonry building designed by Gardiner & Mercer – was planned and built under considerable financial difficulty at the beginning of the Great Depression. Construction was completed in the fall of 1928. A gymnasium and 600-seat theatre were also planned but never built due to the Depression. During WWII, under the auspices of the Hadassah-WIZO chapter of Vancouver, the Jewish Community Centre was transformed into a Canadian Red Cross blood drive centre – further continuing its mandate to be a community focal point, and source of pride for the community until JCCGV operations closed there in 1960.
Vancouver’s Jewish Community: A Geographical History
The Jewish community’s early centre was located in the 500-700 blocks of East Pender in Strathcona. The earlier Schara Tzedeck synagogue at the southeast corner of Heatley and Pender, near the Nellie Yip Quong House, survives today as condominiums; Jews first worshipped in a converted house at 514 Heatley Street nearby. The Neighbourhood House at 800 Jackson Avenue run by National Council of Jewish Women served as a predecessor to the Jewish Community Centre. National Council provided many services, including language training and job placement for new arrivals, and the highly renowned Well Baby Clinic, which helped new and expectant mothers learn how to care for their infants.
The construction of the original Jewish Community Centre at 2675 signalled the community’s southward shift after the First World War. When the community began to build again after the Second World War, in 1947, it located its Beth Israel Synagogue and Talmud Torah School nearly 20 blocks south at 27th Avenue. A newer Jewish Community Centre at 41st and Oak anchors the community today.
On April 25, 2012, we celebrated the site of the original Jewish Community Centre with our hosts, the BC Lung Association. Many people who remember the building well were able to attend, and share personal photos and stories. See facebook album.
Visit Letters of Love and Laughter an online exhibition by the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia. A series of love letters written between Ann Goldberg, executive secretary of the Jewish Community Centre at 2675 Oak Street, and Victoria- based military man Ralph Fromson chronicles their relationship through letters from 1931-33.
- Jewish Museum & Archives of British Columbia. “Vancouver’s First JCCGV – Meaningful Moments.” April 2012.
- Michael Kluckner. Exploring Vancouver 3 pp. 142 and 178
- Michael Kluckner. Vancouver The Way It Was p. 134 referencing Opening Doors. Strathcona: Vancouver’s First Neighbourhood.
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