One of the reasons the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver is being redeveloped is that its amenities, like the gymnasium and swimming pool, are aging. (photo from miss604.com)
The government of British Columbia has announced $25 million to support the redevelopment of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver.
At a virtual event April 28, three cabinet ministers and Alvin Wasserman, president of the board of the JCC, publicly shared the major contribution to the $155 million project.
The first phase of the redevelopment, which is what the grant supports, will contribute to the construction of the new, 200,000-square-foot community centre. This will be built on the current JCC parking lot. The new facility will allow the JCC to expand childcare, seniors services, arts and cultural spaces and amenities for all. The centre, when opened, will also be home to about 15 not-for-profit organizations, with expanded space for the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, a new theatre, and other facilities. That component is anticipated to be completed in late 2024.
A second phase of the project, which is the largest capital project in the history of British Columbia’s Jewish community, will see the existing JCC replaced with mixed-use rental housing, including units at or below market value. In this phase, King David High School, which is currently located to the east of the JCC, across Willow Street, is expected to move to new, larger premises in the second phase to accommodate growing student enrolment. This phase, expected to be completed in 2027 or 2028, will cost about $272 million.
The redevelopment initiative includes the transfer of the property from the JCC into a community trust, with rent and other revenues being reinvested into the Jewish community in perpetuity.
Melanie Mark, B.C. minister of tourism, art, culture and sport, made the funding official in an enthusiastic announcement.
“The Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver is an integral part of our social and cultural fabric, it’s a vibrant, intergenerational community centre,” she said. “But it was built more than 60 years ago and the facility is in desperate need of replacement. Its amenities, like the swimming pool and gymnasium, are aging. Meanwhile, the community of Oakridge has exploded around it.”
Mark added: “We hope this grant will assist the centre to secure other sources of funding for this project. The redevelopment of the centre is a massive undertaking, leaving a legacy for generations to come, which is why I’m encouraging other levels of government to join us in funding this important project. Specifically, I hope the federal government will step up and match our funding commitment. I hope they see the value in meeting the needs of this growing, diverse community.”
The new JCC’s capacity for increased childcare and the residential components of the second phase dovetail, Mark said, with the government’s commitments to affordable housing and childcare.
David Eby, the province’s minister responsible for housing, emceed the event. The JCC’s aim of 500 units of affordable housing is an example of how the province is “going to get to our very ambitious target of 114,000 units of affordable housing across the province,” Eby said.
Also on hand was George Heyman, minister of environment and climate change strategy, who recalled his teenage years hanging out at the centre. He echoed Mark’s call for the federal government to join the province in supporting the project.
“The Jewish Community Centre is a centre not just for Oakridge and the Cambie Corridor but for all of Metro Vancouver, and has been for years,” said Heyman. “Visitors come from all around the region and from a wide variety of ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds.”
On behalf of the JCC, Wasserman thanked the provincial officials, all three of whom represent Vancouver ridings in the legislature.
“The centre is in desperate need of replacement,” said Wasserman. “Community needs have hugely outgrown it and, fortunately, we are blessed with options. The centre is in the heart of Vancouver, on land worth more than $325 million. Our community pioneers knew this land would be important for our future needs and that future is arriving…. Thanks to the funding from the province of B.C., we are able to move forward with the plan that will bring benefits to many for many generations to come.”
An aerial view of the proposed redevelopment of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver site, looking south. (image by Acton Ostry Architects Inc.)
On Feb. 7, the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver was packed with community members, as well as some area residents. For the three-hour open house hosted by the City of Vancouver, visitors worked their way through the crowded atrium, reading the numerous poster boards about the proposed redevelopment of the centre site, and how that redevelopment fits in with the massive changes proposed for the Oakridge neighbourhood.
While it is still early in the process, the City is looking for public feedback by March 30 on the rezoning application it has received for 950 West 41st Ave., i.e. the JCC.
The proposed redevelopment comprises a nine-storey building to replace the current JCC, a 13-storey replacement for the Louis Brier Home and Hospital and a 24-storey residential building.
According to the rezoning proposal, the new JCC would include “recreation space, including pools and gyms; ground-level commercial space; an Early Childhood Education Centre, including 104 private daycare spaces; cultural arts, auditorium and theatre space; [and] nonprofit office space.”
The new Louis Brier would have “266 senior assisted living, complex care and memory care beds,” and the residential building would have “160 secured market rental units,” including 64 studios, 40 one-bedroom units, 40 two-bedroom units and 16 three-bedroom units. “Underground parking, with 693 vehicle parking spaces and 250 bicycle parking spaces, is proposed.”
The rezoning application is being considered by the City under the Oakridge Transit Centre Policy Statement.
The City of Vancouver explains on its website that the Oakridge Transit Centre, across from the JCC, “was formerly home to 244 trolley and 182 diesel buses, and employed over 1,200 transit staff including drivers, mechanics and administrators…. With the completion of the Vancouver Transit Centre on the Eburne Lands in 2006, almost all services moved out of the OTC” within several years and TransLink determined that the OTC was no longer required as a transit centre. TransLink approached the City about the redevelopment of the site: “Council approved a cost-recovered planning program to create a policy statement for the site in February 2014 and the program was publically launched in June 2014.”
The statement was approved in December 2015, after “an 18-month process involving community engagement at key points, and technical planning and design work.” It guides “the rezoning and redevelopment of the Oakridge Transit Centre,” as well as that of the JCC, the Petro Canada Station at the corner of 41st and Oak, and Oakmont Medical Centre (809 West 41st).
The JCC rezoning application was coordinated by Acton Ostry Architects Inc., the JCC and the Louis Brier Home. In the application, which is on the City’s website, Acton Ostry explains that the “surrounding context is in a state of transition and transformation from a low-density semi-urban neighbourhood to a high-density urban centre. Transit is a driving force at the heart of the new town centre with the Canada Line on Cambie Street and a new B-line proposed for West 41st Avenue.” The document notes that King David High School, which is east of the JCC, on Willow Street, uses and “shares many spaces in the existing JCC and is intended to have a dedicated gym in the proposed new JCC, in addition to access and use of many other activity spaces.”
According to the timeline on one of the posters at the February open house, there was a pre-application open house in November 2016 and the rezoning application was submitted in December 2017. With the City-led open house now having been held, there will be a public hearing, “pending staff review and feedback,” followed by a council vote, again “pending staff review and feedback.” If the rezoning is approved, “the proposal becomes a development application.”
Development and building permits would take months to years to procure, and the construction itself would also take a few years. Since the JCC cannot be non-operational for that long, the project is envisioned in phases. The existing JCC would remain in place as the main building of the new JCC is built on what is now the centre’s parking lot, followed by the construction of the new underground parking lot. Once the new JCC was operational, Phase 2 would start with the new Louis Brier Home, to be located at the opposite end of the development site, then move to the construction of the residential tower and the rest of the JCC, located in between the main JCC and Louis Brier.
Staging a parade on Laurel Street, circa 1960. An image from the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia’s online exhibit, Oakridge. (photo from Gail Dodek Wenner via jewishmuseum.ca)
The oral history exhibit recently launched by the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia on the postwar Jewish community of Vancouver’s Oakridge neighbourhood struck a chord and gave me pause. This is the area where my mom grew up – she was 13 when the shopping centre opened, the mall where my high school friends and I would later hold part-time jobs – and where my grandparents’ family home remained until a few years ago. And, it gave me pause because it reminded me that a little history can shake one’s sense of complacency.
Spending my teen years in Vancouver in the late 1980s, I sometimes wondered why the Jewish community didn’t live more north or more west – in short, closer to the beach, and in reach of sea and mountain views. Surely, part of the Jewish community’s move southward had to do with the wider lots and newer homes available as the city sprawled outward. But another important – and, to me, overlooked – part of the story is the legacy of racism and antisemitism that had infected the buying and selling of property in Vancouver.
One of the interviewees in the exhibit recalls a real estate agent telling her father, in reference to a house on King Edward Avenue between Oak and Granville streets, “This is a good neighbourhood because no Jews or Chinese are allowed.” By the fifties and sixties, however, Jews felt welcome and comfortable in the south Vancouver area, bounded by Oak and Cambie.
Times were different for my generation, growing up as multiculturalism was taking hold in a serious way and antisemitism and racism were increasingly seen as unmannered, even if they never fully went away.
In the mid-1980s, I recall accompanying my grandmother to an annual general meeting at the Richmond Country Club, where she regularly played tennis. I recall a discussion that evening about whether Jewish membership should be privileged. (An interview with the club’s current general manager, Mark Strong, confirms that, while the club’s written charter states that no member will be denied admission based on race, colour or creed, in practice, during that era, the club promoted Jewish membership.) After the meeting, I was outspoken in my criticism. To my 12-year-old sensibilities, trying to stack the membership of a recreational club with any particular religion or ethnicity seemed parochial and antiquated at best, and prejudiced and discriminatory at worst.
What I didn’t sufficiently appreciate then was the legacy of Jews being barred from many country clubs and, indeed, the Richmond Country Club had been founded by a group of Jewish businessmen and professionals in 1951 for that reason. If the club’s policies seemed antiquated to my 12-year-old ears, there was more resonance to it than I then realized. While I was trying to afflict the comfortable, these club members likely still felt the sting of affliction requiring comfort.
Today, the Richmond Country Club has a Magen David in its logo, and states on its website that “the spirit of inclusion remains one of our core values.” (I will leave aside the separate though partially related question of whether any country club can be economically inclusive.)
What does it mean to have grown up in what felt like a post-antisemitism era? I admit that, until recently, I have been suspicious of those who seek to find antisemitism at every turn. Not long ago, an older relative clipped a real estate ad for a cottage near Lake Winnipeg that stated it was in a “restricted” area. My relative took this to mean no Jews allowed. I did a little research and soon learned that, in this particular cottage zone, “restricted” meant something very different – no cars allowed. When I showed my relative what I’d found, he turned angry. It’s easy to get locked into patterns of victimhood.
But now my comfortable post-antisemitism bubble seems to be bursting. The Trump era has unleashed a torrent of hateful, xenophobic and bigoted discourse. Swastikas and racist graffiti have popped up on various houses of worship – including four Jewish institutions where I live, in Ottawa. Trump has appointed as chief counsel Steve Bannon, a man accused of trafficking in antisemitism via his website, Breitbart News.
Modern liberal polities require a constant sense of balance between comfort and vigilance. Too much comfort, and one risks complacency – for oneself and others. Too much vigilance, and one veers into paranoia. At the very least, we mustn’t forget history. Narratives of the past help explain collective fears, while suggesting what is necessary to make possible the kinds of societies that are worth fighting for.
Mira Sucharovis an associate professor of political science at Carleton University. She is a columnist for Canadian Jewish News and contributes to Haaretz and the Jewish Daily Forward, among other publications.
Cambie Street, looking south from 41st Avenue, 1952. (photo from City of Vancouver Archives via jewishmuseum.ca/oakridge)
On Nov. 23, the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia had both its annual general meeting and launched its newest online exhibit, Oakridge.
JMABC board president Perry Seidelman called the AGM to order and noted a major absence.
“Forty-five years ago,” he said, “Cyril Leonoff became our founding president and was at our side throughout all of those years. However, sadly, this ongoing support ended this year with Cyril’s passing. There is so much that can be said about Cyril but tonight I will only say that he has been and will continue to be missed. It goes without saying that we would probably not be here tonight if it was not for Cyril Leonoff.”
Seidelman then went on to list some of the year’s accomplishments, including ongoing speaking engagements and historical tours, as well as the recording of 35 new oral history interviews and the digitization of “various family fonds, the Mountain View Cemetery Restoration Committee fonds and the Temple Sholom fonds.”
He noted that the digitization of “the oldest books from Congregation Emanu-El (1861 through 1901 approximately)” was complete and they will be online soon, that several online exhibits had been mounted during the year, and that the museum’s “largest collection by far, the Canadian Jewish Congress, Pacific Region, fonds, has begun to be processed, with immense research potential.”
The museum handled hundreds of research requests, he said, and “received donations ranging from fiction manuscripts to synagogue records to WWII records.”
Seidelman noted that longstanding JMABC member (and a past president) Bill Gruenthal was recognized by “Jewish Seniors Alliance for years of extraordinary volunteer work” and that archivist Alysa Routtenberg had “recently completed her first year as archivist as Jennifer Yuhasz’s successor. It has proven to be a nearly seamless transition with a continuing and increasing inflow of documents and interviews and regular transmission of the vast history of which we are guardians.”
He thanked JMABC administrator Marcy Babins, JMABC coordinator of programs and development Michael Schwartz, Shirley Barnett for her leadership in the restoration of the Jewish section of Mountain View Cemetery, Cynthia Ramsay for editing the JMABC’s annual journal, The Scribe, and donors and funders, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver. He bid farewell to three members of the board – Barnett, Chris Friedrichs and Barbara Pelman – and welcomed four new members: David Bogoch, Alan Farber, Alex Farber and Carol Herbert.
After the AGM was the Oakridge launch.
“With this exhibit,” said Schwartz, “we set out to document an important period in our community history; a moment when a population boom coincided with financial stability and postwar optimism to cause our community to grow both in size and stability in a way rarely seen before or since. This era set a new foundation for our community that we have built upon and relied upon ever since.
“This exhibit places this period in context with events happening both before and since. It asks why and how many Jewish families and institutions chose to establish themselves in Oakridge.”
Compiled over two years, the Oakridge research team was Erika Balcombe, Junie Chow, Elana Freedman and Josh Friedman, with Schwartz. A large portion of the exhibit comprises oral history interview excerpts from community members Harry Caine, Vivian Claman, Irene and Mort Dodek, Gail Dodek Wenner, Wendy Fouks, Debby Freiman, Sarah Jarvis, Ed Lewin, Sandy Rogen, Ken Sanders, and Seidelman.
“Irene deserves double thanks,” said Schwartz, “as we have included an excerpt of an interview that she carried out with Bea Goldberg and Marjorie Groberman in 1996. Naturally, I thank Bea and would certainly thank Marjorie were she still with us.”
Schwartz also gave thanks to JMABC colleagues Babins and Routtenberg, as well as Yuhasz, “each of whom devoted much time and energy to this project,” and the board of directors.
At the turn of the last century, explained Schwartz, “there were essentially two interconnected Jewish communities: the affluent Reform Jews in the West End and the Orthodox, working-class Jews in the East End, what today we call Strathcona…. Over time, the Jews of the East End grew more financially stable and began to relocate to the new neighborhood of Fairview in the 1920s and ’30s.”
He noted, “If the Great Depression hadn’t hit, it seems likely that Oak and 12th Avenue would have been the heart of the Vancouver Jewish community. Instead, campaigns to build Beth Israel, Talmud Torah and a new Schara Tzedeck were put on hold until after the war. All three projects were completed in 1948. By that time, the city had continued to expand southward, so these three facilities were built closer to King Edward Avenue.
“This southward shift was further encouraged by another important event,” he continued. “In 1950, the CPR, the Canadian Pacific Railway, released a parcel of land stretching from 41st Avenue and Granville Street to 57th Avenue and Main Street. The city identified the middle third of this land for residential development and worked with Woodward’s and other developers to construct Oakridge Mall as an anchor for the new neighborhood.
“This neighborhood didn’t attract exclusively Jews, but it arrived at a perfect moment for our community.”
There was a lot of material from which the researchers had to choose. “The work was to pare it down to a manageable size, a representative cross-section of the community,” said Schwartz. “As you can imagine, everyone we spoke to had a very different experience. For instance, Vivian Claman and Ed Lewin shared with us the experience of survivor families.”
In the exhibit, said Schwartz, Lewin comments, “The survivors and their children were almost like a sub-community of the Jewish community. We kind of did everything together, we were like an extended family.”
“In general, the Baby Boomers we spoke to had happy memories of their childhoods,” said Schwartz, giving the example of Claman.
“We played in the street – we would be gone all day,” she says in the exhibit. “We played kick the can! I mean, those were the days that you would go outside and you would just play till it was dark or till your parents yelled and said come in for dinner. There was a lot of hanging out.”
That’s not to say everything was perfect. Schwartz noted Mort Dodek’s comments in the exhibit.
“One other thing that you have to understand is that there was a lot of antisemitism at that time,” says Dodek. “There were people who were uncomfortable living in Shaughnessy, a lot of Jewish people were not comfortable there. The Shaughnessy Golf Course was there, and it was restricted, no Jews were allowed to join that club.”
And Irene Dodek notes, “When we first moved to Vancouver in 1947, my parents went out with a real estate man to look at a house at 25th between Oak and Granville, and the real estate agent told my father, ‘This is a good neighborhood because no Jews or Chinese are allowed.’”
Schwartz also pointed out that there were divisions within the Jewish community, citing Seidelman and Mort Dodek’s comments from the exhibit.
“The rabbi of Schara Tzedeck would not go to Beth Israel, would not be seen to enter, whereas today they have the Rabbinical Association, all the rabbis get on really well together and they seem to respect each other’s different levels of observance, whereas in those days they didn’t,” says Seidelman.
“If you want to talk about splits in the community,” says Dodek, “there was a terrific split between the people who were involved with the Peretz shul and people who were involved with, say, Talmud Torah…. It was not religious and believed that the main language to speak for a Jewish person was Yiddish. And, of course, the people at the Talmud Torah, the language to speak, of course, with the establishment of the state of Israel, was Hebrew.”
“Another theme that emerged through our interviews,” said Schwartz, “was the way gender roles were changing and have changed since the 1960s. Men always worked outside the home, but women rarely did. This was beginning to change, but very slowly. Without full-time jobs, women had the time to dedicate to volunteer organizations like Hadassah and National Council of Jewish Women. Both organizations accomplished a great deal in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, but have struggled in the years since, as fewer young women have the time to devote to this type of work.”
For anyone wanting to know more about the role of women in the community, Schwartz recommended the museum’s 2013 exhibit More Than Just Mrs., which can be found online.
“Oakridge, like each of our exhibits, serves three functions,” said Schwartz, listing those functions: a chance to grow the museum’s archives, to increase awareness of the JMABC and of Jewish life in the province, and to reflect on how the community has changed over time.
For the Oakridge exhibit, he noted, the majority of the oral history interviews “were undertaken by volunteer and student interns, giving them valuable experience in the art and science of oral history interviews. Thanks to projects like this, including other exhibits and our annual journal, The Scribe, our oral history collection has grown substantially in recent years, bringing our current total to 762 interviews.
“Just this month,” he added, “we held two interviewer training sessions as the first phase of our Southern African Diaspora Oral History Project…. Through this project, we intend to interview hundreds of community members who arrived here from South Africa and the neighboring countries in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.”
With respect to increasing awareness, Schwartz said, “Many of you will remember the launch of our modern architecture exhibit New Ways of Living back in January of this year. This event had an attendance of over 150 people, many of whom were not Jewish and found out about the event through our partners, Inform Interiors and the UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Similarly, our 2015 exhibit, Fred Schiffer: Lives in Photos, attracted more than 800 people over its two-week run, again with much thanks to our partners, Make Gallery and Capture Photography Festival…. Each new exhibit has a specific thematic focus which draws in a new audience.”
As for reflection on the Oakridge years, Schwartz pointed to the expansion of the Jewish community. “Families,” he said, “have settled into neighborhoods throughout the city and the region in general.”
Referring to the Oakridge area, he concluded, “[I]f fewer and fewer Jews live in this neighborhood, does it make sense for the Oak Street corridor to remain the hub of much Jewish activity? This remains to be seen.”
The goal is to start construction of the new Oakridge Centre and surrounding area in 2017. (photo from oakridge2025.ca)
At a public hearing in March 2014, Vancouver City Council approved Ivanhoé Cambridge’s proposal for a mixed-use redevelopment of the Oakridge Centre site at 41st Avenue and Cambie Street in Vancouver. The project would urbanize a 1950s-era shopping centre on a significantly underused transit-served site and deliver on a number of objectives for the neighborhood identified by the City of Vancouver and also contained in its larger policy objectives.
Since the public hearing, the project team has continued to refine the design of the redevelopment, while determining the best way to phase its construction. The focus of these efforts has always been to ensure uninterrupted operation of Oakridge Centre as the social and economic hub of the Oakridge neighborhood, and to minimize impacts on the retail tenants and the 2,500 full- and part-time employees who work at the site. There has also been an objective to reduce the length of the construction schedule.
The team was also tasked with finding efficiencies in the design of the parkade that could reduce the depth of excavation in order to minimize intrusions into the large aquifer beneath the site. Working within the aquifer would entail costly and unconventional construction techniques that the project team recommended be avoided. Finally, the design team was challenged to continue to improve the functionality and accessibility of the proposed nine-acre rooftop park and to look at optimizing the location of the 70,000-square-foot Oakridge civic centre on the site.
The project team concluded that maintaining uninterrupted operation of most of the shopping centre throughout construction would require a longer construction schedule. It further determined that minimizing intrusions into the aquifer would require a reduction in the parking supply for the project and, therefore, a decrease in density. Taken together, these conclusions suggested that a modification of the original plan would produce a better result.
While this work was underway, Target, one of the centre’s anchor tenants, announced its departure from Canada. The retail component of the project was designed around a two-level mall with several two-level anchor tenants. Therefore, with only one two-level anchor tenant remaining in the project, the centre’s merchandising plan and layout needed to be reworked.
As a result, Ivanhoé Cambridge is now proceeding with modifications to the plan that would produce a slightly smaller project completed over a shorter time and with reduced impact on tenants, employees, the community and the environment.
To facilitate this process, Ivanhoé Cambridge has retained architectural firm Benoy (benoy.com), based in London, England, to be its lead design architect. Despite the reduced project size, there will be no change to the public-benefits strategy previously agreed to with the city, and the site’s potential for significant residential density at a major transit hub will be realized.
Ivanhoé Cambridge recently began discussions with the City of Vancouver planning department to look at options for modifications to the approved plan that will meet and exceed the design and planning objectives that were achieved in the 2014 rezoning. The nature of the refinements will likely require amendments to the 2014 rezoning, which Ivanhoé Cambridge will pursue in 2016 with a goal of starting construction in 2017.
Ivanhoé Cambridge and its residential partner Westbank remain committed to creating a mixed-use, transit-oriented, amenity-rich project that will establish a new development standard in Vancouver.
The Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia is currently researching an exhibit on the Jewish community in the Oakridge area. (photo from Gail Dodek Wenner)
Oakridge was for many years the heart of the Vancouver Jewish community. First opened for development in the 1940s, the new residential neighborhood was attractive to young families seeking suburban living only a short drive from downtown.
Many Jewish families had previously made their homes in Strathcona, Mount Pleasant and Fairview. With the economic boom of the postwar era, many achieved financial success and, with it, the opportunity to move to the comfort of Oakridge. Jewish community institutions followed, most notably with the construction of the new Jewish Community Centre, which opened in 1962.
Today, the neighborhood still holds a warm place in the hearts of many. For this reason, the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia has been working to develop an online exhibit celebrating the heyday of Jewish Oakridge. Making use of numerous oral history interviews, this exhibit will share the recollections of community members, and aim to provide a comprehensive picture of this era in our community’s history. A new series of interviews are currently underway, filling in gaps in previous research.
Under the supervision of the JMABC’s exhibition development team, made up of coordinator of programs and development Michael Schwartz and archivist Alysa Routtenberg, two volunteers are undertaking this series of interviews.
Junie Chow has volunteered for the JMABC for almost a year now, and recently produced the online exhibit Letters Home. Drawing upon the Seidelman Family fonds, the exhibit shares the letters written by Pte. Joseph Seidelman to his family at home in Vancouver as he fought on the frontlines of Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele during the First World War.
The second volunteer, Josh Friedman, brings to the project his training as a recent alumnus of Indiana University graduating with a BA in Jewish studies and political science. New to Vancouver, Friedman is excited about discovering how the Jewish community in Oakridge reflected similar and different perspectives to trends in North American Jewry during the 1940s-1960s.
Listening to earlier rounds of interviews, essential themes have appeared. These include the initial motivations for moving to Oakridge, the overwhelming sense of community among residents, and even the eventual reasons for moving out of the neighborhood. However, through this process, new questions have also emerged and are guiding the ongoing research. For instance, how did the local community react and respond to world events affecting Israel and international Jewry? Acknowledging that Oakridge is a multi-ethnic neighborhood, the team is seeking insight into the types of relationships that existed between non-Jewish and Jewish neighbors. All of the results will be shared in the forthcoming exhibit.
Currently online are the exhibits Letters Home and New Ways of Living: Jewish Architects in Vancouver, 1955 to 1975 (see jewishindependent.ca/the-west-coast-style). As well, the JMABC has launched On These Shores: Jewish Pioneers of Early Victoria, which traces the early foundation of the Victoria
Jewish community from their arrival in 1858 to the establishment of Congregation Emanu-El in 1863, and Sacred Sites: Dishonor and Healing, which reflects on Victoria citizens’ response to the desecration of the Jewish cemetery there in 2011, and places this incident in context among other similar events elsewhere. Sacred Sites was produced through a partnership between the JMABC and the University of Victoria.
The Jewish Community Centre at 41st Avenue and Oak Street, November 1962. (photo from JWB fonds, JMABC L.11512)
It’s hard to believe that, in the 1950s, the Oakridge area was considered a ways out of town. In going through the minutes of the Jewish Community Council of Vancouver from 1954, one can see the initial attempts by the council to find a new Jewish community centre building – which at the time was on Oak Street at 11th Avenue – that would be as conveniently located. They considered exchanging space with the Peretz School, which was on Broadway, and buying the land on which Vancouver Talmud Torah stood, on Oak at 26th. However, they soon started examining the prospect of buying land from Canadian Pacific Railway, south of 41st. The following snippets of meeting minutes from 1954-1962 allow readers to fast forward through the development process and the establishment of the JCC where it is currently located.
An architectural design rendering of the Leo Wertman Residence at 611 West 41st Ave. (photo from Gomberoff Bell Lyon Architects Group Inc.)
When Legacy Senior Living opens in the Oakridge neighborhood in July 2014, the 91-suite, independent-living seniors residence will pay tribute to a man who believed in building community. Built by the Wertman Group of Companies, it was created in honor of Leo Wertman, who founded the company back in 1962.
According to material provided by the company, Leo Wertman came of age in Ruzaniec, Poland, and was the only survivor of his family during the German occupation. As a teen, he became a Polish partisan, participating in missions to defy the occupation and emancipate Poland. In the process, he became a protector to many Jewish women and children, as well as the sick and elderly who sought shelter in the forest outside the city limits of Lublin and Ruzaniec. By night, he would venture into town, returning with food and medical supplies that helped keep some 200 displaced, hidden Jews alive during the occupation. Later in his life, he moved to Canada with his wife Regina and children Joseph and Rochelle. His business origins were manual labor and a small scrap-metal endeavor that he built up until he had the funds to invest in residential real estate in the 1960s. In a fast-growing city like Vancouver, he believed people would always need somewhere to live. According to the family, he became known as the “Provider” for the role he played during the war, and it was one he lived up to until his passing in the 1980s.
Meanwhile, the business was expanding and Wertman’s son became actively involved, helping it grow from a few apartment buildings to a large development company and real estate management group. Today, this private company includes grandson Jason Wertman, who serves as vice-president of Legacy Senior Living.
The Wertman Group has built several higher-end residential/condominium buildings on the west side of Vancouver, and it manages rental properties on the North Shore from its headquarters at 1199 West Pender.
The Wertman Group has made its mark on the Lower Mainland in a variety of ways. The company’s portfolio includes the Hycroft Medical Centre and the Guildford Medical Centre, two landmark medical buildings that were overhauled, renovated and re-tenanted. It has built several higher-end residential/condominium buildings on the west side of Vancouver, and it manages rental properties on the North Shore from its headquarters at 1199 West Pender.
Beyond business, the Wertmans have a legacy of donating to causes in Israel as well as to organizations serving the local Jewish community, including the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, Vancouver Talmud Torah, Lubavitch B.C., Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and Schara Tzedeck Synagogue.
“With Legacy Senior Living, our goal was to create an outstanding senior living residence in Leo’s honor, right here in the heart of Vancouver,” said Jason Wertman by telephone. “We want it to be a place where seniors can stay active and involved, living creative and fulfilling lives – a place where great food, friendships, culture and thoughtful living spaces will combine as the ideal lifestyle community.” The residence was designed to promote a healthy, independent way of life that highlights personal choice, convenience and exceptional service. “People who have some gas in their tanks can come here to reclaim quality of life and focus on being active and healthy,” he added.
Wertman describes Legacy Senior Living as being comparable to a Four Seasons Hotel. “It’s truly luxury living, with high-end finishes and a boutique style. The suites, which will be available exclusively for rental and will range in price from $3,750 to $7,700 per month, feature video-monitored entrances, automatic keyless entry, three elevators and remote-controlled blinds.”
“We’re right in the heart of the Jewish community, with easy access to shops, physicians, services, parks and familiar neighborhoods, and the availability of a town car transportation service will help residents move around their local catchment area.”
The location is a big draw, noted Carol Omstead, managing director. “We’re right in the heart of the Jewish community, with easy access to shops, physicians, services, parks and familiar neighborhoods, and the availability of a town car transportation service will help residents move around their local catchment area.”
Life at Legacy includes a selection of dining choices, a concierge service and a wellness navigator, who can give advice and information to residents when and if needed. Jewish residents will have ample opportunities to continue their traditions, including Oneg Shabbat with a special musical performance by Annette Wertman on Friday afternoons, kosher-style meals (with strictly kosher meals available for those who require them) and the town car service, which can help them commute to the synagogue of their choice. “Our goal is to keep all cultural groups connected to their traditions,” Omstead said.
“We’re gearing towards the Jewish community,” added Wertman. “Our target market is the same as that of the Jewish Community Centre and the Richmond Country Club. The Jewish community is not enough to support us entirely, so we’re open to everyone. But the residence is geared towards and was inspired by the Jewish community.”
Omstead said Legacy was designed for seniors who want their golden years to be a time of growth and development. “It’s about living life your way, preserving and enhancing your activity level and independence” she said. “When you’re in a positive environment like Legacy, you can achieve great things.”
The seniors residence that most closely resembles Legacy is Tapestry, which has locations in Kitsilano and on the south campus of the University of British Columbia. What sets Legacy apart is that more meals are included, there is transportation available to residents seven days a week and its central location in Oakridge. Also, its ownership. Omstead added that the company is particularly suited to serve the local population. “Because we’re right here, we’re really attuned to the community we serve,” she said.
Wertman said his family is excited about the development, one of their biggest projects to date. “It’s consuming all our time and energy, and the suites are being rented out quickly,” he said. “Everything we have now is from the foundations that my grandfather Leo built, so, in a sense, this is his legacy project.”
The presentation centre, now open at 2827 Arbutus, at 12th Avenue, is open Monday to Friday, 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m, and all day Saturday and Sunday. A courtesy shuttle service in a dedicated Legacy Senior Living 2013 Bentley is available for those who don’t drive. Call 604-240-8550 to arrange for a ride during the show suite hours.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.