The architectural traces of a culture.

To document the movement and development of Montreal’s Jewish community from the 1880s until 1945, much like a detective, Sara Ferdman Tauben has pored over historic city maps and directories, sepia-coloured photos, brittle newspaper articles and long forgotten anniversary publications to track the locations of Montreal’s early synagogues. Her quest results in a fascinating story that describes and defines the social, religious, and economic aspects of a distinct group of people through the architectural traces of its culture.

The decades surrounding the turn of the twentieth-century marked the era of mass migration of the Jews of Eastern Europe. Fleeing poverty and persecution, some came to Montreal. They left places with names like Minsk, Pinsk, Morosh, Galicia, and Dinovitz, to settle on Montreal streets with names like St. Urbain, St. Dominique and St. Laurent. To retain familiar traditions and familial connections, they established small congregations, which recalled the homes they left behind. The Pinsker Shul, Anshei Morosh, Anshei Ukraina, and Anshei Ozeroff were not only places of worship but also places where friends and family from the same country, area or town could meet, exchange concerns, lend support to each other, and resolve to help those in the “old country.”

More than a Montreal Story

Traces of the Past interweaves architectural and social history in an engaging and accessible manner. Montreal is a vivid case study of an experience that was mirrored in Jewish immigrant communities across North America, examined in the broader context of the building of synagogues in 19th century Europe. As such, the book considers changing and conflicting communal identities and aspirations as a process of adaptation to new opportunities: in Europe as presented by the Emancipation and in North America as a consequence of immigration. Tauben sees the buildings themselves as markers of that adaptive process. 

B'nai Jacob
B’nai Jacob, then and now. Read More →       Photos: Left – archival; Right – David Kaufman, 2000
Traces of the Past includes two walking tours of Jewish Montreal — fun for Montreal natives and tourists alike — as well as archival photographs, and a full-colour 12-page portfolio of photographs by David Kaufman documenting the remnants of Montreal’s early synagogues.

David Kaufman — Photography

David Kaufman, a native of Montreal and Toronto resident, has had a two-track career as a fine-art photographer and as a television documentary producer, director, and writer. His photography work has been concentrated in architecture-based imagery, with special interests in brick buildings of the late 19th and early 20th century, storefronts, commercial, industrial, and vernacular architecture, and churches and synagogues. His latest photographic project is documentation of major Jewish cemeteries in Poland.

Men at Anshei Ozeroff

Reviews & Praise

"While written for those interested in Montreal’s Jewish history, Traces of the Past is a valuable work for anyone interested in the cityscape, urban planning, architecture, religion, or minority communities."
— Leila Marshy,
Montreal Review of Books

Traces of the Past presents a wealth of architectural information alongside well-told social history, upon which Tauben depicts the rise and fall of Jewish communal life in Montreal’s old centre. […] Tauben is expert at conveying architectural influences from Europe, as well as those from local secular and church architecture. Traces of the Past addresses, thoughtfully and without didacticism, the patterns of change in Jewish devotional life, as shulelach patterned on prewar Polish models gave way to grandeur structures.”

— Norman Ravvin,
Institute for Canadian Jewish Studies