Architects and Developers building Canada’s Cities

Project Description


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Samuel Belzberg at his investiture as an Officer of the Order of Canada, Ottawa, 2002

Courtesy of Samuel Belzberg

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Moshe Safdie

Photographer: Stephen Kelly

Photographer: Timothy Hursley Courtesy of Moshe Safdie

National Gallery of Canada by night

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Front elevation rendering of
Beth Jacob Synagogue on Henry Street,
Toronto, 1919, by architect Benjamin Brown

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family
Heritage Centre, fonds 49, series 1, file 2

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Congregation Emanu-El, Victoria, ca. 1863.
Canada's oldest synagogue still in use on the original premises

Source: Jewish Museum and Archives of BC, #L.06630

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Interior of Congregation Emanu-El, Victoria, after 1984 renovation

Source: Jewish Museum and Archives of BC, #L.00890

Architects and Developers building Canada’s Cities

Jewish architecture has graced Canada’s landscape for two and half centuries. Congregation Emanu-El in Victoria, B.C., the oldest surviving synagogue in Canada, was built in 1863, and is a National Historic Site. Designed by architect John Wright, the building was erected during Vancouver Island’s building boom and Jewish immigration that resulted from the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush.

Jewish architects and developers have shaped Canada’s cityscapes. Among the earliest was Benjamin Brown who, in the 1920s, branched out from designing synagogues like the Beth Jacob in Toronto to creating the iconic Balfour Building on Spadina Avenue. In Winnipeg, Max Blankstein contributed to the city’s skyline with his Film Exchange Building and numerous early movie theatres. One of Canada’s most celebrated architects, Moshe Safdie, designed Habitat ’67 in Montreal, the National Gallery in Ottawa and Vancouver Library Square. Safdie’s worldwide commissions parallel the remarkable work of Toronto-born Frank Gehry, who is most renowned for his design of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

Vancouver’s Cornelia Oberlander has transformed urban landscape architecture through her most notable commissions, such as Robson Square and Law Courts Complex, the Vancouver Public Library and the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver.  Phyllis Lambert of the Bronfman family has been a powerful force for urban design values. She helped create Heritage Montreal in 1975, and later established the Canadian Centre for Architecture, a major museum and research centre for the study and exhibition of architecture. Jack Diamond and his firm in Toronto is renowned for many projects, notably the Four Seasons Performing Arts Centre and, in Russia, the Marinsky Opera House.

A signature property developer, Sam Belzberg, was a leader in real estate modernization in Western Canada. Currently Founder and Chairman of Gibralt Capital Corporation, Belzberg is also well-known for his philanthropic work. In Halifax, Ralph Medjuck, of the Centennial Group, is a leading real estate developer in Atlantic Canada, where he has been responsible for many of the city’s renowned structures including many downtown office buildings, seniors’ facilities, apartment buildings and hotels.

Larry Tanenbaum has contributed to civil engineering feats, notably in the transit systems of Toronto, Calgary, and other cities. His brother, Joey Tanenbaum, also an engineer and President and CEO of Jay-M Holdings, has had a successful career in real estate and construction, and is particularly known, along with his wife Toby, for their patronage of the arts in Toronto. In Ottawa, the Vered family’s Arnon Corporation is a highly successful property management company in the National Capital Region, while the Greenberg family’s Minto Group is renowned for major construction and housing projects.

In Montreal, many individuals and firms have been involved in the post Second World War period of modern development. David Froim Lebensold, known as Fred Lebensold, was exceptionally influential in such areas as theatre design and initiating the preservation movement for “Old Montreal”. More recently, David Azrieli was instrumental in major commercial and housing developments, and significant philanthropy, both here and in Israel. Similarly, the family of Marcel and Sylvan Adams has been very active in commercial real estate and in philanthropy.

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