• Print

 

 

 

By MYRON LOVE News that a fellow by the name of Don Robinson has restored the old synagogue in Melville, Saskatchewan, is bringing back memories for Jewish Winnipeggers who grew up in the southeastern Saskatchewan community.


“Melville was a great place to grow up,” says Chuck Narvey, whose family moved to Winnipeg in 1964 when he was 15.  The Melville Hebrew Synagogue was the centre of our community.  It was our social hall and cheder.  I went to cheder until Grade 6.  Rabbi Goldstein was our teacher.”
Narvey, whose father, Max (his mother was Anne), operated a clothing store in town,  recalls the synagogue being built in the old traditional style with the bimah in the centre of the room and the ladies’ section upstairs in the balcony.
 “The shul was always full on Yom Tov when all the Jewish families from the smaller surrounding communities would show up,” he recalls.
Rhona Ames, who left Melville in 1976 (originally for Israel), remembers virtually growing up in the synagogue. “We had a Hebrew teacher, Mr. Yuditsky, who came in from Regina (about a 90-minute drive),” she recalls.  “There were seven or eight of us in the class.”
The origins of the Melville Jewish community virtually coincided with the incorporation of Melville itself in 1909.  “Melville was important because it was a CNR divisional point,” says Narvey.
At its peak, the Melville Jewish community was home to 50 families, among them my own father and grandparents and extended Kanee family.  (My baba was a Kanee.)  My father, Abe Love, would have been bar-mitzvahed in the Melville Hebrew Synagogue which was built in 1921.  (The school was added in 1932.)
The most prominent Jewish family emanating from Melville was that of Sam and Riva Kanee and their children. Sam Kanee was among the earliest Jewish residents of Melville and a successful merchant.  He moved to Winnipeg in the 1940s where he presided over Soo Line Mills until his passing in the early 1950s.
Oldest son Sol was one of the most influential world Jewish leaders for almost 50 years. He and his family left their mark on Winnipeg in many areas including the arts and academia as well as the Jewish community. His memory has been preserved and his contributions recognized through the Winnipeg Jewish Community Council’s Sol Kanee Distinguished Service Medal in 1994, the Sol Kanee Lecture on International Peace and Justice at the University of Manitoba and the   the Sol & Florence Kanee Distinguished Lecture Series at the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada.
Also prominent in the Melville community was Sam Kanee’s brother-in-law, Meyer Waldman, who served as mayor of Melville for several years beginning in the 1920s, and who was the holder of that office during the 1930s visit of the Royal Family.
Louis Lercher, another Kanee brother-in-law, was a town councillor.  Lercher was in business with Kanee.  Mrs. Kanee and Mrs. Lercher were sisters.
By the 1960s, there were still 20-25 Jewish families in Melville, notes Shelly Swartz Saidman, who left for Winnipeg in 1966 just after high school. Shelley’s father, Harry Swartz, was born in the Lipton Colony in Saskatchewan and her mother Norma Minovitch was from Regina. They were married in 1942 and Shelley, their only child, was born in 1948, the same year the moved to Melville. In Melville, they operated a Chinese food restaurant, then went into the furniture business.
Among the other families in town – in addition to the Narveys, Ames and two Swartz Families – were the Weinsteins, Silvermans, Wasels, Franks, two Nagler Families, Reiners, Siers and Wohlfarths.  By the mid-1970s, there were few left.
One of those few families were Rhona Ames’ parents, David and Blossom, who came to Melville after the war. Harold Ames was an optometrist.  Ames’ parents moved to Regina in the mid-90s after spending 50 years in Melville.
Also among the last Jews in Melville were Dr. Werner and Joan Wohlfarth, who came to the community in 1955. Wohlfarth was the town coroner, alderman for 15 years, member of the hospital board and active in the Order of the Elks, St. John Ambulance, and the Rotary Club. He also served a term as President of the Saskatchewan College of Physicians and Surgeons. Joan was Girl Guide Leader for 20 years, organized blood donor clinics and was Leader-Post correspondent from 1968 until her death in 1986.
Ames recalls that the declining community decided to close its synagogue in 1970 because the floors had started to sag. “It was considered hazardous,” she says.
Shelley Swartz Saidman notes that the Torahs were sent to Israel and the bimah was relocated to Temple Shalom here in Winnipeg.
The synagogue restorer, Don Robinson, says that he would to see the restored building being used by the community in Melville for non-profit events.