Congregation Emanu-El (Victoria, British Columbia)

Coordinates: 48°25′38″N 123°21′42″W / 48.427326°N 123.361649°W / 48.427326; -123.361649
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Congregation Emanu-El
Congregation Emanu-El, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada 06.jpg
Congregation Emanu-El
AffiliationConservative Judaism
RiteNusach Sefard
Location1461 Blanshard Street
Victoria, British Columbia
V8W 2J3
Geographic coordinates48°25′38″N 123°21′42″W / 48.427326°N 123.361649°W / 48.427326; -123.361649
Architect(s)John Wright
Official nameCongregation Emanu-el Temple National Historic Site of Canada

Congregation Emanu-El is a synagogue in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. It is the oldest synagogue building still in use as a synagogue in Canada, and the oldest surviving synagogue on Vancouver Island.[1] It can also boast of being the oldest synagogue building on the west coast of North America.[2] Founded by 1859 when the cemetery is known to have been dedicated, in 1863 the congregation built the synagogue that is still in use. It is affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. The building is a National Historic Site of Canada,[3] and has also been designated as a heritage property under the provincial Local Government Act.[4]


Designed by John Wright, architect, the synagogue, located on Blanshard Street at Pandora Avenue beside a twentieth century community building, was built in 1863,[5] during the Victoria building boom caused by the discovery of gold on the mainland nearby in 1858. The first Jews to settle on Vancouver Island came mostly from the United States during the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush.[6]

The synagogue is said to have been the first building in town to have its cornerstone laid by the recently organized Victoria chapter of the Freemasons.[7] A second cornerstone was laid on the same day by a member of the congregation's Building Committee. A time capsule was ceremoniously buried. It included not only the congregation's constitution, a list of donors tho the building fund, some coins, and a copy of the local newspaper, the British Colonist, still publishing today as the Victoria Times Colonist, but the full membership lists of the Germania Sing Verein and French Benevolent Society of Victoria.[7]

The dedication was marked by a procession of benevolent societies of what appears to have been every religion and ethnicity resident in the young city. The marchers in the procession are known to have included not only the Hebrew Benevolent Society, but the French Benevolent Society, the St. Andrew's Society, the Germania Sing Verein (a German Singing Club), and the Fraternity of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons. The band from HMS Topaze, a 24-gun, Liffey class, Royal Navy frigate, played.[6][7]

The congregation's cemetery on Cedar Hill Road in Cedar Hill (Greater Victoria), dedicated in 1859.[8]


The building is built in the Romanesque Revival style. The facade of the two-story, brick building features a rose window and a corbelled gable. The ceiling of the interior is domed. In the sanctuary, which fills most of the building, seating originally reserved for men surrounds the bimah, and a Torah ark protrudes on the east wall. The sanctuary's second floor consists of a U-shaped gallery originally for women, but now used as an overflow space.[1][9] The building was renovated in the 1980s,[10] adding on a new wing called the Al & Sylvia Fisher Building, replacing an older wooden structure with a space for educational and cultural activities.

Notable members[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Synagogues". The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  2. ^ "Walking Tour 2 in Victoria at Frommer's". Frommers. Retrieved 2010-10-13.
  3. ^ Congregation Emanu-el Temple National Historic Site of Canada. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 30 April 2013.
  4. ^ Congregation Emanu-el. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 30 April 2013.
  5. ^ "Dictionary of Architects in Canada". Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  6. ^ a b "City celebrates synagogue's start, The cornerstone-laying ceremony for Victoria's first synagogue was a grand affair and revealed how rich the city's cultural and religious character was during the 19th century". Times Colonist. Victoria. December 7, 2008. Retrieved 2010-10-13.
  7. ^ a b c "The Synagogue of Congregation Emanu-El". University of Victoria. Retrieved 2010-10-13.
  8. ^ "The IAJGS International Jewish Cemetery Project has moved". Archived from the original on 2011-06-07. Retrieved 2010-10-13.
  9. ^ Shannon Ricketts, Leslie Maitland, Jacqueline Hucker, A guide to Canadian architectural styles, Broadview Press, 2003, p. 98
  10. ^ Betsy Sheldon, The Jewish travel guide, Hunter Publishing, 2001, p. 243

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