Left to right: Glen Hodges, manager, Mountain View Cemetery; Damian Koo, City of Vancouver legal services; Francie Connell, director, City of Vancouver legal services; Dr. Penny Ballem, city manager; Shirley Barnett, chair, MVJCRP committee; and Herb Silber, Schara Tzedeck Cemetery board. (photo from Mountain View Jewish Cemetery Restoration Project)
“Sometimes it takes awhile,” said Shirley Barnett, chair of the Mountain View Jewish Cemetery Restoration Project. But generally not 124 years! In 1891, Vancouver mayor David Oppenheimer, member of a prominent pioneer Jewish family, was approached by the growing Vancouver Jewish community to reserve a section within the city-owned Mountain View Cemetery to be consecrated and used exclusively for Jewish burials. At the time, when a Jewish person died, they were sent to Victoria, where the community had already established a cemetery.
Oppenheimer knew the small Jewish community of Vancouver well. The Gintzburgers, Weavers, Fleishmans, Golds and Goldblooms traveled in the same circles as the Oppenheimers. They had all emigrated from Western Europe, some via the United States, around the same time and all had prospered. Perhaps, as Barnett speculates, “they had even helped to get Mayor Oppenheimer elected.”
Oppenheimer was born in Germany in 1834, one of 10 children. He emigrated to New Orleans in 1848 with his sister and four of his brothers. Becoming a bookkeeper, and later a trader in the California gold rush, the Oppenheimers relocated to Sacramento, where David invested in real estate, and married his first wife Sara in 1857. After the gold rush, the Oppenheimer brothers moved to Victoria, establishing stores throughout British Columbia, catering to prospectors and settlers. Also building a real estate portfolio, they expanded their interests in Vancouver.
Although Malcolm MacLean was the first mayor of Vancouver, it was Oppenheimer who is remembered as the “Father of Vancouver.” In his four terms as mayor, from 1888-1891, he implemented many basic civic services: fire department, streetcars, water supply, utilities, schools and parks. He was also a philanthropist, a founding member of the YMCA, Vancouver Board of Trade, Vancouver Club and many charities.
Establishing a Jewish cemetery at Mountain View in 1892 was one of his many accomplishments. Without minutes of meetings or other documentation, however, the only evidence of this was a number of articles published over the years, and the records of burials.
In 2015, 124 years later, the City of Vancouver recognized the historical establishment of the Jewish section at Mountain View and, based on this, an oversight agreement with Schara Tzedeck Cemetery board was signed. The agreement confirms that the cemetery board has the right to oversee all interment and funeral services within that Jewish section.
Although Oppenheimer himself was buried in New York, many of his colleagues were laid to rest at Mountain View. Over the past two years, a restoration of this old cemetery been undertaken. Now complete, the rededication will take place on Sunday, May 3, at 1:15 p.m.