“Cornerstones” were articles that appeared in the Sunday edition of the Calgary Herald between 1997 and 2000. The following article appeared October 10, 1999.
House of Jacob
• 325 5th Avenue S.E.
• Built: 1911
• Demolished: 1968
• Original cost: $5,000
• Construction materials: Brick.
• Original interior details:
With seating for 400, there was more than enough room for the 50 Jewish families that attended synagogue in 1911. The bimah (reader’s platform) stood in the middle of the main floor, the area reserved for men only, with the ark in front. Two doors on either side of the main exterior entrance led to the women’s gallery.
• Architectural style:
"Designed with traditional orthodox features and classical lines." The number 5671 on the facade referred to the Hebrew year of its founding.
• The congregation was organized in 1907 and two years later purchased two lots on 5th Avenue S.E. near Third Street. A small one-storey frame structure, with seating for about two dozen people, was built at the rear of the property to serve as temporary quarters until funds were raised for a permanent synagogue.
• The Calgary Jewish community was incorporated in October 1909 as the Congregation of the House of Jacob. The declared purposes of the new congregation were " to purchase lands for, maintain, and use a cemetery, to make donations to or otherwise assist any public, charitable….or useful institution and to promote the extension of the Hebrew faith." The first officers were Jacob Diamond, president (who served seven terms as president before his death in 1929); Jack Bercuson, vice-president, Harry J. Cooper, secretary-treasurer; David Cohen, Kalmen Corrin (Koren) and Simon Jacobson, trustees.
• Jacob Diamond, pleased with the choice of name for the new congregation, gave the first pledge for the synagogue. Henry Noah Sereth and his brother Alexander, reportedly donated building materials from the Riverside lumber yards. Jacob Woolfe, a carpenter and cabinet - maker, is believed to have built the first bimah and torah ark.
• There was "comic" confusion over the name House of Jacob when the contractor submitted the plans for the new synagogue to building inspector Dick Harrington in June 1911. "What in thunder do you want to plaster the man’s name all over the plans for?" he asked. "I don’t care whose house it is as long as it complies with the building by-law." The contractor couldn’t quite catch the drift of the conversation, but when he glanced at the plans himself, it came to him that the inspector had assumed the new synagogue was a house for somebody named Jacob.
• Jacob Diamond, laid the cornerstone during the summer of 1911. Calgary lawyer R.B. Bennett (later Prime Minister) addressed the audience.
• The synagogue quickly became a meeting place for many Jewish organizations and a venue for a variety of Jewish celebrations and events. In 1914, the Calgary Zionist Association held a meeting to raise funds for Europe’s homeless Jews. Two smaller buildings at the rear of the synagogue housed the Mikvah (ritual bath) and the day chapel/meeting room/school room.
• When the House of Jacob was demolished in the summer of 1968, local journalist Tom Moore wrote, " to the early Jewish immigrants to Calgary, the House of Jacob was more than a place of worship. It was their "club."
• Rabbi Shimon Smolensky served the Congregation from 1917 to 1935. He was also the ritual slaughterer for kosher meat for the city’s Jewish population. Rabbi David Well served from 1935 to 1938 and Rabbi David Barenholtz from 1939 to 1968.
• The synagogue was purchased by the city of Calgary as part of its east-end urban re-development project. In January 1967, the House of Jacob closed and the building was subsequently demolished. Bow Valley College (formerly Alberta Vocational Centre) now occupies the site.
• The congregation moved to the former Moose Lodge building at 1212 Street S.W. where it remained until the almost inactive congregation was revived around 1980. Three years later they officially changed their name to Congregation House of Jacob – Mikveh Israel.
• A chandelier and some of the wooden furnishings from the original House of Jacob are still in use at the new Congregation House of Jacob Mikveh Israel synagogue on 92nd Avenue S.W. which was dedicated in 1986.
• A model of Calgary’s first permanent synagogue, recently built by Vance Harris, a University of Calgary Architecture student, will be on display at the House of Jacob Mikveh Israel during the congregation’s 90th Anniversary celebration in 1999.
• Thank you to the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta for providing a history of the Congregation of the House of Jacob.
“Then & Now” columns appeared weekly in the Calgary Herald between 2002 and 2005. The following article appeared April 22, 2003.
Then: House of Jacob, 325 5th Ave. S.E.
• The Jewish Congregation of the House of Jacob was organized in 1907 and two years later purchased two lots on 5th Avenue near 3rd Street. A small, one-storey frame structure, with seating for about two dozen people, was built at the rear of the property to serve as temporary quarters until funds were raised to build a permanent synagogue. There was "comic" confusion over the name, House of Jacob, when the contractor submitted the plans for the new synagogue to a city building inspector in June 1911. Assuming the building was a private residence, he asked: "What in thunder do you want to plaster the man's name all over the plans for? I don't care whose house it is as long as it complies with the building by-law." Jacob Diamond laid the cornerstone during the summer of 1911 and R.B. Bennett addressed the audience. The 400-seat synagogue, built at a cost of $5,000, quickly became a meeting place for many Jewish organizations and a venue for Jewish celebrations and events. The synagogue closed in 1967 and the congregation moved to the new Congregation House of Jacob Mikveh Israel on 92nd Avenue S.W.
Now: Bow Valley College
• In 1965, the provincial government approved the establishment of Alberta Vocational Center -- Calgary, to serve the educational needs of adult Albertans. Around the same time (1967), the City of Calgary bought the House of Jacob as part of its east-end urban renewal project and, one year later, the synagogue was demolished to make way for construction of the $5-million vocational centre, now known as Bow Valley College. The college serves more than 10,000 learners in Calgary and at campuses throughout southern Alberta. Credit programs accommodate learners on a full-and part-time basis and include high-impact job training in health, business, industry and computers, English as a second language and academic upgrading.