Monday, November 16, 2009

taking the tour

Many times, I think knitting someone else's design is like taking a tour. You're exploring how someone else thinks and works, seeing what their strengths, interests, and weaknesses are, and, if you're me, analyzing how that works compared to my designs.

Part of my "move to Canada" knitting was doing just this--I decided to knit a Lady of the Lake kit by Fleece Artist, a Canadian handdyer and designer. I finished the sweater last week. The photo has a stripe of sunlight across the bottom--that's not a change in the colors of the sweater!

It fits nicely and I think the design is flattering. The way it was designed was innovative--only down side was that the pattern could have used some tech editing. I'm a stickler for the details sometimes!

This past weekend I had some knitting time while taking a bus tour of historic Jewish Winnipeg. My professor was the one signed up for the trip but he ended up on a work trip instead, so I decided to take his place. He asked me to recount the I'm going to try to take everybody on a vicarious trip of some of the highlights!

Many immigrant groups moved to Winnipeg from about 1880 onwards...this was in part to escape discrimination, and in part economic. Winnipeg wanted to recruit people, and it was an affordable place to settle. The Canadian Immigration folks encouraged the move west. So, Eastern Europeans moved to the prairies. Ukrainians, Polish and German Catholic immigrants...and also, Polish, German and Russian Jews.

While the groups were encouraged to move here, there was no infrastructure in place to receive them. The Jewish community built a lot of organizations to help immigrants. They created a free health clinic called Mount Carmel Clinic to help poor people get medical care. In the 1930's, they built an old age home called the Sharon Home. This place had extension upon extension put on it, and now has finally moved to a new facility in the south of the city. Back in the old days, when a married couple couldn't keep up in their house anymore, they might sell it and "move to the Sharon Home." Today, the Sharon home is part of the Canadian health care system. A woman taking the tour with me told me about her 93 year old grandfather who announced he was ready to "move to the Sharon Home." His family had to tell him that according to health care rules today, he's not sick enough! (he's moved to some other retirement facility in town.)

There were several schools in town. This shows the hall attached to the old Peretz School. This was a left wing, Yiddish based education, the school was started in 1914. The building housed up to 400 kids. That little parking lot (without the utility equipment in it) was the playground for the whole school. The kids played baseball there on that tiny blacktop, and apparently the lady in the house next door suffered a lot of broken windows!

Every Friday night, there were concerts, competitions, poetry readings, and lectures in that hall, and several hundred people would squeeze in. These were families without TV, so they organized their own entertainment!

The Peretz kids didn't get along with the Talmud Torah kids, whose curriculum was more traditional and religious. (I didn't get a photo of the Talmud Torah buildings--none of these buildings is being used by the schools anymore these days.) This is a timeline of Winnipeg's Jewish day schools.

Most of the immigrant communities had their own lending systems. There was one bank in the North End of Winnipeg that had a Jewish assistant manager--and it was the busiest bank! Long before the days of ethnic and interest group banking, that one bank had figured out it was useful to have someone employed there from the neighborhood immigrant commmunities! The Jewish community also had a branch of the Hebrew Benevolent Society. Here's an explanation of what they did that I found here. The short version? They gave out micro loans and helped keep the poor and needy afloat.

Winnipeg’s Jewish community, although with a later start than Toronto and Montreal, developed an exceptionally broad aid network. A Hebrew Benevolent Society was established in 1886 to take over the work of earlier groups that had helped to absorb nearly 340 pogrom refugees in the city. The new organization carried out charitable programs for the next fifteen years, assisting needy local families, aiding the Jewish farm settlements, helping transient immigrants to US cities, arranging job placement for newcomers, and contributing to the Winnipeg General Hospital. In 1906 the Hebrew Sick Benefit Society was founded, with its several hundred members deriving not only the usual cemetery plots, sick benefits, and loans, but also cultural advantages such as drama and lectures. B’nai Brith, the Jewish fraternal and charitable organization, had arrived in Toronto in 1875 and Montreal in 1881, while Winnipeg Lodge No. 650 was formed in 1909 and by 1913 had over three hundred members. The lodge’s early activities included action against antisemitism, an employment bureau, and a fresh-air camp. In 1912 the lodge aided the formation of one of two Jewish orphanages that were merged a few years later, functioning as the Jewish Orphanage of Winnipeg until 1948.

Click on the photo and when you see it large, you can see the "HBS" initials in the railings. The orphanage mentioned here operated not only for orphans, but also for Jewish kids whose parents lived in rural communities. The children would live at the orphanage in town so they could get an education.

Right near there is Gunn's bakery, one of the few businesses still left from that time period. Gunn's has been operating since 1937. It bakes very good bread and creates specialities for a lot of the ethnic immigrant groups in the area. They make over 20 varieties of bread!

Throughout the north end of Winnipeg, there used to be many small synagogues. There are still a few there, but most of the congregations are now in the south end of town. This is doorway to the Ashkenazi Synagogue, the oldest existing synagogue building in Winnipeg. The congregation has been meeting in that location since 1922. There were synagogues for every political and interest group, from the Sholom Aleichem shul (communists) to the Butcher's Shul (Yes, that was for the Kosher butchers.) Here's a long list of just the synagogue cemeteries.

There are even odes and editorials to this community.

I love social history and try to find "tours" in many things I do. So, I took a tour through someone else's knitting design...and I took a more literal tour of the old neighborhoods in Winnipeg. Hope you enjoyed the excursion...
(and I hope I did a good enough job so that my professor doesn't feel he missed anything!)

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Blogger Alison said...

Thank you, Joanne! That glimpse at the past just fascinates me; I had ancestors who left their countries searching for religious freedom, settling way out in the middle of nowhere in the American West (actually, farther west than America went at the time), and I love the stories of how people pulled together for each other back then in such circumstances.

As a side note, note that Governor Ford of Missouri in the 1800's had issued an edict that all Mormons (they being anti-slavery AND wanted to give women the vote, which would outnumber the male voting opposition...) were to be shot on sight. That didn't get taken off the books until a drunk driver tried to get off a murder charge in the 1970's because his victim, there in Missouri, was Mormon.

Uh, yeah, that didn't go over well.

--AlisonH at

November 16, 2009 at 4:48 PM  
Blogger ilana said...

Joanne, that was fascinating! I can't wait to visit some of these places when we- some day soon- visit you guys. I love how this community encouraged education, even if it meant sending your young children to live in a city orphanage. Thanks for the tour!

November 16, 2009 at 8:53 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Fascinating! Any idea about textile history in the community?

November 16, 2009 at 9:03 PM  
Blogger Joanne said...

Nancy, there's not that much "history" in the textile world here that I haven't perhaps mentioned already. There are a couple of museums, a guild or two (and one is 60 years old) and --one thing I haven't mentioned--there's a spinning wheel that was made in Sifton, Manitoba by the Spin-well company. That about covers what I have learned, textile wise.
There's also Ram Wools (a yarn shop that has been around a while) and apparently some interesting Icelandic artifacts in Gimli. That covers my textile history exploration at present!

November 19, 2009 at 5:41 PM  

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