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Calgary, Alberta, Canada

CALGARY, city in Alberta and fifth largest in Canada with a population of more than a million people. This western Canadian city is the center of Canada's oil and gas industries and is home to the second largest concentration of head offices in Canada. The city is famous for the Calgary Stampede, an annual celebration of its Western heritage. Calgary also boasts the highest per capita income and highest number of people with post-secondary education in Canada.

Jews have been part of the city's history of more than a century. After the Canadian Pacific Railway reached Calgary in 1883, the Repstein brothers of Winnipeg temporarily established a "cheap cash store." The first permanent Jewish residents of Calgary were two brothers, Jacob Lyon Diamond and William Diamond. They were joined in 1888 by Jacob and Rachel *Diamond , and Jacob worked as a pawnbroker and liquor merchant. Others Jews followed. The first religious Jewish service was held in Jacob Diamond's home in 1894 and the Diamond brothers organized High Holiday services that same year in the rented Calgary Masonic Hall. In 1904, Jacob Diamond and Nathan Bell purchased land for a Jewish cemetery and established a ḥevra kaddisha.

By 1906, Calgary's small but active Jewish community was concentrated in the heart of the business district. Most of these Jews were of Russian origin and came to Calgary through the United States or from Eastern Canada. Many were active in commerce. In addition to Jacob Diamond's liquor store, Herman Bercuson, Phineas Waterman, and J.A. Guttman opened up dry good stores in the city's business center. Alberta's first full-time spiritual leader, Hyman Gold-stick, moved to Edmonton from Toronto in 1906 to serve the Calgary, Edmonton, and nearby smaller Jewish communities. By 1907, the Jewish population in Calgary was about 400. As it continued to grow, so did its organizational structure. The first Zionist organization was also established in 1907 and the House of Jacob (Beth Jacob) Congregation was incorporated by Jacob Diamond, with services first held at rented facilities. In 1913, the Calgary Hebrew School (Talmud Torah) started offering afternoon classes and in 1929, the community's first Jewish day school, the I.L. Peretz School, opened, graduating its first class in 1934–35. A second Jewish day school began in 1947, when the Talmud Torah expanded its educational program. The first Jewish summer camp, Camp B'nai B'rith, opened on Pine Lake, 90 mi. (140 km.) northeast of Calgary, in 1956; in 1960 Martha Cohen founded the Jewish Family Service.

Through the Depression of the 1930s, with immigration restrictions preventing further growth, the majority of Calgary's Jewish community remained concentrated in two inner-city neighborhood where kosher butcher shops, dry goods stores, and grocery stores met their household needs. As the Jewish community became increasingly prosperous after World War II, it gradually shifted to better neighborhoods. Following World War II, Calgary's Jewish community increased with the arrival of Holocaust survivors and refugees. Prosperity in Alberta during the 1970s sparked more growth. Within a decade, Calgary's Jewish population increased by another 50 percent to close to 6,000 by 1980. This rapid growth encouraged growth in the Jewish communal network, including the construction of a large Jewish community center and the founding of a Reform temple, B'nai Tikvah, in 1979. In 1980, Akiva Academy, the first Orthodox day school, opened. In 1984, the Shaarey Tzedec and Beth Israel congregations agreed to merge to create a new Conservative synagogue, the Beth Tzedec. A few years later, in 1987, the Calgary Hebrew School and the Peretz School also merged to form the Calgary Jewish Academy. In addition to Modern Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform synagogues, since 1988 there has also been a Chabad presence in Calgary. However, most Jews in Calgary are non-Orthodox. A Jewish press also emerged. Between 1980 and 1990, The Jewish Star served both the Calgary and Edmonton Jewish communities. The Jewish Free Press now serves the Calgary Jewish community.

Later, Calgary's Jewish community witnessed yet another growth spurt with the arrival of Israelis, Russians and migrants from Eastern Canada. The 2001 Canadian census counted 8,180 Jews in the city. Calgary's Jews have been prominent in municipal and provincial life. From 1927 to 1937, Grigory Garbovitsky was conductor of the Calgary Symphony Orchestra. More recently, Sheldon Chumir, a well-known Calgary lawyer, Rhodes scholar, and Liberal politician, was twice elected to the Alberta Legislature. In 1981, Ron Ghitter of the Progressive Conservative party was elected to the provincial legislature from Calgary and, 12 years later, was appointed senator. Ghitter headed an 18-month long government commission on schools following the discovery and prosecution of Jim Keegstra, a teacher from Eckville, Alberta, who incorporated Holocaust denial materials into his teaching. Calgary was also home to Canada's first female chief of police, Christine Silverberg. In September 2001, Dr. Harvey Weingarten became the president and vice chancellor of the University of Calgary. Jews have also played a vital role in Calgary's artistic life, with Jack Singer and Martha Cohen contributing significant funds and their names to a theater in Calgary's Centre for the Performing Arts.


H. Gutkin, Journey into Our Heritage (1980); Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta, Land of Promise: The Jewish Experience in Southern Alberta (1996); M Rubin in: H. and T. Palmer (eds.), Peoples of Alberta: Portraits of Cultural Diversity (1985), 329–47; H.M. Sanders, "Jews of Alberta," in: Alberta History, 47/4, 20–26.

[Aliza Craimer (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.