Constructed: 1927 | Demolished 1978
Architect: Noffke, Morin and Sylvester
Location: 259 Murray Street, Ottawa
The Murray Street Synagogue, located at the north-east corner of Murray Street and King Edward Avenue from 1927 to 1978, was designed by the prominent Ottawa architectural firm of Noffke, Morin and Sylvester in 1927.
Worshippers of the Congregation Machzikei Hadas (Holders of the Faith) first met in a modest building at 264 Murray Street, purchased in 1908 and expanded in 1913, which had belonged to the Adath Jeshurun Congregation.
The cornerstone of the Murray Street Synagogue was laid on May 8, 1927 and the synagogue formally opened on August 28 of the same year.
The new synagogue’s interior followed the traditional sanctuary design for an Orthodox Jewish shul. The exterior towers, however, were more reminiscent of the low flanking towers or pavilions found on many eastern European synagogues.
Between 1935 and 1936, twelve murals depicting the signs of the Zodiac, the ancient Wailing Wall and the Tomb of the Patriarchs were painted on the face of the women’s gallery on three sides of the sanctuary. They were painted by French Canadian commercial artists Louis Prefontaine and Léo Desjardins from the Levy Sign Company.
A victim of urban development, the Murray Street Synagogue was expropriated by the City in 1973 in anticipation of the realignment of St. Patrick Street. In 1974 the Congregation Machzikei Hadas relocated to a new synagogue at the corner of Virginia Drive and Yale Avenue in Alta Vista.
When plans were announced in 1977 to demolish the Murray Street synagogue, Martin Weil, then president of Heritage Ottawa (and chief architect, Restoration Services Division, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development), spearheaded a campaign to save the murals, which had been recognized as important examples of Jewish folk art in Canada.
The Committee to save the Murray Street Synagogue Murals of Machzikei Hadas Synagogue included Martin Weil, art historian Reesa Greenberg (Concordia University) and Shirley Berman (Ottawa Jewish Archives), among others.
With the assistance of a Wintario grant, applied for by Heritage Ottawa on behalf of the Jewish Community Centre, the Murray Street Synagogue murals were safely removed and stored in 1978. The funding also contributed to their restoration under the direction of conservator Ian Hodkinson, who prepared them for installation in the Jewish Community Centre on Chapel Street in 1984.
In 1998, the murals were moved to the Joseph and Rose Ages Family Building of the new Soloway Jewish Community Centre at 21 Nadolny Sachs Private, where they remain on public display in the foyer.
The Murray Street Synagogue murals, which represent a unique event in the cultural life of the Ottawa Jewish community, were saved from ruin and preserved for future generations to enjoy.