Little Synagogue on the Prairie

Heritage Park Historical Village SynagogueAt Calgary’s Heritage Park Historical Village, the Montefiore Institute teaches visitors about a little-known chapter in the settlement of the West. Fifty families, near present-day Sibbald in eastern Alberta, founded the Montefiore colony, named for Sir Moses Montefiore, a 19th-century British philanthropist who brought pogrom-weary Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe to the prairies in 1910. The colony built a two-room, 74-square-metre structure that served as synagogue, school and community centre in 1916. But when the Dust Bowl came through in the 1920s, they were forced to leave, and the government sold it to a local school board for grain storage. In the ’40s, it became a private home in Hanna, then vanished from the records for more than five decades. In 2006, Calgary’s Jewish community discovered it covered in layers of stucco and paint. They bought it, restored it and gave it a permanent home at Heritage Park in 2008. The result, as they say, is a mitzvah.
– By Kevin Brooker

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