This Week in History
Consecration of the Congregation Emanu-El Temple
|For the week of Monday September 11, 2000
A huge effort by the whole Victoria B.C. community led to the construction of the Congregation Emanu-El temple in 1863. It was consecrated on September 14 and is now the oldest continuously used house of worship in British Columbia.
The 1858 Gold Rush on the Fraser River attracted many people to Victoria, including about 50 to 100 Jews who came north from San Francisco. Although there were gold miners among them, many worked for California-based companies that provided supplies. These companies were already known to the miners, so the Jews quickly made their mark on the business community. As well, they were involved in several community organizations. Thus, when the Congregation Emanu-El was founded, groups such as the Masonic Lodge, the French Benevolent Society and even local churches tried to help finance the construction of a synagogue.
Among themselves, they were highly organized as well. They started a collection for Jewish community in Morocco within months of their arrival, as well as arranged services for the High Holy days. By 1860, a Jewish cemetery was established and plans were soon in place for a permanent house of worship.
The cornerstone for the temple was laid in an elaborate ceremony that involved a huge procession of the various community organizations. The building was large enough to hold 500 worshippers, although the Jewish community was only a small fraction of that size at the time. The prominent Scottish-born architect John Wright designed it in the Romanesque Revival style. This style was very common for synagogues in the 19th century and is characterized by round-headed windows, gabled roofs and elaborate detailing. Outside, the front exterior features a triple arched entranceway and a large rose window. Inside, there are three balconies looking down on the central tabernacle.
Numbers in the congregation dwindled after the Gold Rush ended. By the 1940s, the synagogue was in a state of disrepair, so temporary measures were put in place to prevent it from being condemned. Unfortunately, as a result, many of the original features were lost. However, in the 1970s, the congregation arranged for a massive restoration project, culminating in a re-creation of the original laying of the cornerstone in 1982.
The Congregation Emanu-El Temple is federally commemorated as a National Historic Site, therefore helping ensure that the oldest surviving synagogue in Canada is preserved.
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