The Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre began the Southern African Legacy Project (SALP) in response to the realization that the OJA’s vast collection was missing the fascinating stories of immigrants who arrived in Ontario from South Africa and Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia). Recognizing the importance of actively pursuing material from recent immigrant waves that have shaped today’s community, the OJA launched SALP in 2014 to ensure that this community’s presence and contributions are preserved in perpetuity and that their stories can be shared with the wider community. This is the OJA’s first collection development initiative focused on a specific immigrant group, and the OJA plans to use this pilot as a model to work with other groups in the future.
Although a small number of Jewish southern Africans did begin immigrating to Ontario as early as 1907, the largest waves began arriving in the 1970s soon after the violent Soweto riots. By 2011 nearly five thousand Jews from South Africa were living in Toronto.
Over the course of the project, dozens of southern Africans met with an archivist to share memories and provide photographs, letters, speeches, scrapbooks and other records detailing their experiences in southern Africa and Ontario. To complement the archival material, the OJA also recorded oral history interviews with close to thirty individuals representing different cross-sections of the community, such as people who immigrated in different eras and at different life stages. The collection that has emerged holds a wealth of information about Ontario’s Jewish southern African community: why they left South Africa and Zimbabwe, why they chose Canada, initial impressions of Canada, the challenges they faced when integrating into life here, the differences and similarities in Jewish traditions, the important role they have played in Ontario’s Jewish community and their contributions to Canadian society.
While the OJA previously held almost no material on the southern African community, it now holds a vast collection of material representing the stories of over ninety southern Africans. It includes:
- Over 2000 photographs
- 130,000 MegaBytes of digital images and textual records
- 7 banker’s boxes of textual records equal to roughly 10,000 pieces of paper
- Over 500 minutes of video documenting the lives of southern Africans in Ontario
- Over 60 issues of the SAJAC News
- Over 640 recipes
- Over 2,700 minutes of recorded oral histories
Both the archival records and full oral history recordings are housed at the OJA in the Lipa Green Building on the Sherman Campus and are available for research use online or on site. This material will be preserved in perpetuity. When researchers come to the OJA to learn about Ontario’s diverse Jewish community, the legacy of former southern Africans will now be part of that story.
The OJA was supported by a committee of committed former southern Africans: Stephen Pincus, project chair; Colin Baskind; John Cohen; Michael Meyer; Lorraine Sandler; Richard Stern; and Heather Super. This project would not have been possible without their support and the leadership of OJA chair Eric Slavens.
The Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre (OJA) is the largest repository of Jewish life in Canada. Founded in 1973, the OJA, a department of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, acquires, preserves and makes accessible the records that chronicle Ontario’s vibrant Jewish history. The collection documents organizations, individuals, synagogues, schools, summer camps, community leaders, leisure, athletes, and businesses. Through exhibitions, programs, research assistance, and walking tours, the OJA tells the stories of Ontario’s Jewish community.
The OJA’s collection is housed in a state-of-the-art vault with humidity and climate controls. The OJA’s staff of professional archivists service approximately 400 researchers per year, including academics, students, curators, genealogists, filmmakers, radio and television producers, journalists, UJA Federation staff, Jewish agencies, and other organizations.