Yidishe Folks Shuln


[photo Jack Goldsmith, 2006 – Musée du Montréal juif]

5210 Waverly Street [photo Jack Goldsmith, 2006 – Museum of Jewish Montreal]

Between 1924 and 1941, the residence located at 5201 Waverly housed the Yidishe Folks Shuln (Jewish People’s Schools), at a time when Mile End was the heart of Jewish life in Montreal. The school was led by socialist activists who sought to provide a secular alternative to the religious education offered by Talmudic schools. The Yidishe Folks Shuln emphasized social justice, Yiddish culture and Zionism, considered the essential values of the Jewish identity. It was so successful that a new building, located across the street at 5210 Waverly, was constructed in 1941 to house the school. Today, that building is part of College Français.


Established in 1920 on Saint-Urbain Street, at the corner of Saint-Cuthbert, and continuing there until 1952, Jewish People’s Schools opened a branch in what was previously a private home on Waverly Street, at the northeast corner of Fairmount Avenue, in 1924. The location was not random: it was adjacent to Fairmount School, an elementary school of the Protestant School Board. Although more than 80% of the pupils at that school were of Jewish origin, almost all the teachers and administrators were Protestants. Once the children had finished their day at the Protestant school, they went to the Folks Shuln to study Hebrew, Yiddish, and Jewish history and culture. Starting in 1929, the Folks Shuln also offered full-time education.

The school was such a success that in July 1940 it was decided to construct a new, larger building. Work began in September and the new building, designed by architect Max Kalman and located across the street at 5210 Waverly, opened in September 1941. This very short construction period, especially in the context of the Second World War, can be explained by the fact that Montreal’s entire Jewish community mobilized for the effort, presented as a response to Nazi barbarism. The former residence continued to play an educational role until 1964, housing a religious school for girls, Beth Jacob, founded by Holocaust survivors.

Several thousand people attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the new building on October 27, 1940. Canadian Jewish Chronicle, November 1, 1940.

Several thousand people attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the new building on October 27, 1940. Canadian Jewish Chronicle, November 1, 1940.

The Jewish People’s Schools followed the post-war migration toward the new suburbs: the institution moved to Côte-des-Neiges (5170 Van Horne Avenue) in 1955. It still exists, under the name Jewish People’s & Peretz Schools (JPPS), after having merged with another progressive institution, the Peretz Schools, in 1971. (Since 2016 it has consolidated to a single campus in Côte-Saint-Luc.) The Waverly Street property was occupied by a yeshiva (a religious school for boys), Merkaz Hatorah, from 1957 to 1971. Collège Français, the current occupant, purchased the building in February 1972.

 

[Research and writing: Yves Desjardins (2016). English translation: Joshua Wolfe (2020)]