Scrap, Salvage and Sell

Scrap, Salvage and Sell: the Scrap Metal Trade in London, Ontario

If you have working-class Jewish ancestors who immigrated to Canada between the 1890s and 1930s, there is a good chance that one of your ancestors “started out” by selling second-hand goods or collecting junk (scrap).

In the early 1890s, my great-great grandfather Moses Leff and my great-grandfather William Leff settled in London, Ontario. They started by collecting scrap, rags, and second-hand goods. In 1898, William became a scrap dealer and founded his own business, “William Leff & Company”. My great-uncle Hyman Leff started a salvage business in the 1930s, and both businesses were in the family until the early 1970s. I was fortunate because I grew up hearing family stories about their lives in London, Ontario and about the scrap trade. However, I yearned to learn more.

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, item 2436.

W. Leff & Co. truck (London, ON), 1937.

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, item 2436.

This past year, I participated in the Morris Winchvesky Centre’s, Adult B’(nai) Mitzvah class, and was presented with a challenge of doing a project. I chose to do a project about my maternal family and their connection to the scrap business. The project can be found on the website: Scrap, Salvage, and Sell: the story of a Jewish family and their scrap businesses in London, Ontario.

During my research and interviews, I heard stories that I knew before: how my great-grandparents were the first marriage in the B’nai Israel Synagogue; how my great-grandfather William Leff co-founded the B’nai Moses synagogue; and that my great-grandmother Jennie co-founded the first Hadassah chapter in London.

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, accession 2010-8-1.

B'nai Moses Ben Judah window.

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, accession 2010-8-1.

I also uncovered new stories that I didn’t know before like how William and his employees were charged and fined for breaking the Sunday labour law in 1909. By diving into street directories and the census, I learned that in the 1920s, 90% of the scrap business owners and scrap collectors in London were Jewish. From a photo at the OJA, I learned that Max Lerner, a contemporary of my great-grandfather, started out as a scrap collector, and then became London’s first Jewish alderman. From my cousin ‘Aunt’ Ida, I learned how my great-uncle Hyman was “let go” from William Leff Company because he was blind. Not to be deterred, Hyman started his own scrap and building material company named the Hyman Leff Company. From newspaper articles and interviews, I learned about targeted arson attacks against the two businesses, and other Jewish owned scrap yards in 1948.

As part of the research project, I interviewed family members who have connections to both William and Hyman Leff’s businesses. These interviews shed light on their day-to-day operations, as well as what it was like to be a child of scrap and salvage brokers. These interviews form part the story on the website I created. When I finish editing and transcribing the interviews, I will be donating the interviews to the OJA, which will enrich their holdings on the Jewish-owned scrap industry.

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, item 6056.

Max Lerner, junk peddler (London, ON), [ca. 1904].

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, item 6056.

The Value of Digitized Photos

Many of the photographs in “Scrap, Salvage, and Sell” are from three archival donations to the Ontario Jewish Archives. The photos of the William Leff & Company business were donated by Zara Leff (daughter in-law of William Leff) in 1978. The photo of Max Lerner (former alderman in London, Ontario) was donated by Judge Mayer Lerner in 1993, and the stained-glass window from the B’nai Moses Synagogue was donated in 2000. Due to the past efforts of the OJA to digitize their photograph collections, I was able find these photos on the OJA website and use them for my own research.

As a researcher, I love the serendipity of finding hidden gems in digital libraries and archives. I am always grateful that someone had the foresight to donate photos, papers, and other documents to archives, so researchers can access them in the future.

In the past few decades many libraries, and archives, the OJA included, have been digitizing photographs with the goal of making their collections accessible to a wider audience. To date, the OJA has scanned upwards of 8,000 photos and documents from their collections which represents only a small fraction of their entire photographic holdings. Why have so few items been scanned? The answer is simple: it takes time, people, and funds to digitize collections. Sustained funding through donations is key to ensuring that even more documents and photos are processed, scanned, described, and made available for use.

Rosa Orlandini is a Data Services Librarian at York University Libraries. 

Family History Research Leads to Priceless Find

Discovering Altman’s Deli by Mitch Altman

There was always a family story about Altman's at College and Brunswick. Famous customers legend says:­­ ­­the Three Stooges, Myrna Loy, inexpensive meals, and a friendship with Sam Shopsowitz. My great grandfather Herman Altman owned it. It was later briefly run by my grandfather George Altman before he sold it. His brother-in-law was Hans Fread of Sign of the Steer fame; “Hans Fread's Folly,” as I learned recently. He and my grandfather bought the building at Dupont and Dufferin that is now South Hill Home Interiors, where they moved the wildly successful Sign of the Steer. They couldn't keep up and it closed quickly after opening.

Bellevue Theatre

I have often searched both the Ontario Jewish Archives and the City of Toronto Archives for “Altman's Deli,” as I always knew it. I found scant references but definitely a few mentions. My mother sent me an article about long-gone Toronto restaurants, and there was a mention of Sign of the Steer. Well, that got me started on my search again and I spent the entire weekend exploring archival records. As, I was looking at architectural records of College Street I found a series on old theatres in the city. The Bellevue on College was a very crisp image. When I noted the address, I looked closely at the storefront next door—the image I had found was very blurry—but the sign clearly showed Altman's. What a lucky coincidence, as there was no individual cataloguing of the businesses that appeared on either side of the theatre, so the name wasn't noted.

Caption: Bellevue Theatre (Toronto), [1937?]. Ontario Jewish Archives, Harold S. Kaplan fonds 27, series 1, file 8.

I cannot tell you how joyful I felt all weekend—and even still today—to finally see a picture of it. Such a wonderful, truly priceless find. I felt like a detective who had finally cracked a decades-long case.

Caption: Mitch Altman’s grandfather, George Altman (right) with Ed Sullivan. George Altman was the Chief Barker (Chair of the Board) of the Variety Club that year. "We always used to do the Bike-a-Thon".   Courtesy of Mitch Altman.


"One of my most cherished possessions is one of the two remaining Altman's knives that have somehow survived". Courtesy of Mitch Altman.


I was born in Cincinnati but grew up in Thornhill while it was still farmland. Spent some years in Tokyo, New York, and Los Angeles before finally returning in 2004. I work with my wife, Interior Designer Shirley Meisels. Lousy golfer, decent husband, and good dad. I love to cook, BBQ, golf and play guitar.

Practicum Experience: Yujia Wu

Photo: Yujia Wu
Photo: Yujia Wu

Last September, I joined the Ontario Jewish Archives (OJA) as a practicum student and started my first digital preservation project in an archival setting. First, please let me introduce myself. I am a master of information student at the University of Toronto, studying archives and records management and human-centred data science. As an emerging information professional, I have always been excited about applying all the knowledge and skills that I have learned at the university to real-world practices. Fortunately, the OJA offered a practicum project, and I was able to join the OJA team and contribute to their Digital Preservation Project. This practicum project also gave me an opportunity to get hands-on experience before I start my professional career in archives management.

Over the past few months, I have been working to preserve the digital versions of thirty-five oral histories. The world has accepted the digitalization of various services and items that we use in everyday life, and digitization is becoming one of the standard forms for preserving the information contained within organic and fragile materials in archives to ensure that valuable information will be viewable and retrievable for future reference. Therefore, the preservation of digital materials has become one of the main responsibilities of archival repositories in the twenty-first century. The oral histories represent a small but significant part of the OJA’s digital assets and need to be uploaded to and preserved in a cloud-based digital preservation system (Preservica) to ensure that they remain accessible to future generations for decades to come.

My work procedure included the following key actions: first, preparing the digital files by editing and tidying up the entries, transcripts, and interview logs; second, ingesting all digital files of each oral history into Preservica and creating descriptive metadata; and finally, updating the database and catalogue in DB/Textworks (a database management system).

I tried to pay more attention to details and be as cautious as possible, especially when assigning descriptive metadata to each oral history. Descriptive metadata can be vital for digital assets because they describe the resources for identification and discovery purposes; one mistake can make the digital assets unidentifiable, thereby decreasing their accessibility. The transcripts editing was also a fun part of this project. I will have to admit that it can be a bit time-consuming sometimes, but I found my way of enjoying it. By going through the interview logs and transcripts, I was able to read the life stories of people in the Jewish communities, some of which concerned refugees who immigrated to Canada during the Second World War. I got to know more about Jewish history, traditions, and culture, as well as the world situation in the early twentieth century. It became a great way of broadening my knowledge.

The most rewarding part of this project was not only about completing it. It safeguarded these oral histories and preserved the memories of Jewish people in Ontario. Besides, it also enhanced the accessibility of the OJA’s digital assets and allowed users to reach oral histories in a more flexible way. More importantly, the completion of this project can help foster the recognition of Ontario’s Jewish community and enhance the multiculturalism of our society.

It has been my pleasure to participate in this wonderful and meaningful project. I gained a deeper understanding of the sociocultural responsibilities of archival professionals and the critical role that archivists played in supporting the social and cultural development of society. It was a great experience, and I will continue developing my professional knowledge and skills and go further in this career.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to my supervisor, Michael Friesen, for helping and supporting me throughout this project; and I would also like to thank Donna, Dara, and Faye, for having me as part of the team. Unfortunately, I was not able to work in the archives due to the ongoing pandemic situation, but I do hope that I can visit the OJA someday after the pandemic ends and meet each of you in person.

Researching the Contributions of Jewish Servicewomen through Archival Resources

by Saundra Lipton

Over 250 Jewish women served in the Canadian Forces during the Second World War. These women, ranging in age from late teens to late 30s, served in various roles, including as military police, secretaries, wireless operators, and drivers.  They were posted across Canada, and some served overseas—some right behind the frontlines.  Until the 2017 publication of my article,  “She Also Served: Bringing to Light the Contributions of the Canadian Jewish Servicewomen of the Second World War” and Ellin Bessner’s 2018 book Double Threat: Canadian Jews, the Military and World War II, little had been written about their contributions.

Portrait of Norda Bennett, Nov. 1943. Photograph by Sylvia Schwartz. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 80, series 2, item 2.

Norda Bennett

Portrait of Norda Bennett, Nov. 1943. Photograph by Sylvia Schwartz. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 80, series 2, item 2.

I am a recently retired librarian and currently the President of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta.  In 2012, I became involved in a project of the Society to honour Jewish World War II veterans from southern Alberta.  In my research, I discovered, to my surprise, that some Jewish Albertan women had also enlisted. Like many others, I had assumed that only Jewish men signed up for military service.  This discovery spurred me on to uncover the names and stories of Jewish Canadian servicewomen.

Archival collections, such as the Ontario Jewish Archives, have been critical sources in locating oral histories, documents, newspaper clippings, biographical information, and photographs for identified servicewomen, and for finding new names to research.   While the various local Jewish archives across Canada provide a wealth of information on servicewomen from their areas, the Alex Dworkin Canadian Jewish Archives is an incredible centralized resource for anyone researching Canadian Jewish military contributions.  I am grateful to Ellin Bessner for sharing with me her discoveries from this rich resource.

Portrait of Esther Mager, 1944. Ontario Jewish Archives, accession 2010-5/14.

Esther Mager

Portrait of Esther Mager, 1944. Ontario Jewish Archives, accession 2010-5/14.


Visiting the various archives in person is challenging. However, their online resources have been most useful, and their staff have been most accommodating in assisting me via email.   I am grateful to the Ontario Jewish Archives, particularly Faye Blum for her research help.  Fortunately, the Ontario Jewish Archives had collected the photographs of Airwomen Norda Bennett and Esther Mager.  I encourage servicewomen’s family members to donate photographs, documents, and other material to the appropriate archive so that this essential primary historical information is preserved for the future.

In addition to the 2017 article, my work on Jewish servicewomen has also resulted in a recently unveiled website,  She Also Serves:  Jewish Women in the Canadian Armed Forces.   The website, which currently features the stories of 36 servicewomen, has been created as part of a project with Art Curator and Educator, Dr. Jennifer Eiserman.  

My First Trip to the Manor

Andy Réti recently contacted the OJA eager to share his Bathurst Manor story. Although Andy never lived in the Manor, he quickly realized that he has been connected to the neighbourhood throughout his Toronto life. Andy’s story begins with his reminiscences of the first party he attended in the Manor in 1960, shortly after his arrival to Toronto from Hungary, confessing “we were all car- and girl-crazy—but not necessarily in that order”, to his present-day volunteer work as a Holocaust survivor speaker at the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre.

By Andy Réti

I was invited to a house party in the Overbrook and Wilmington area. The year was 1960, and I didn’tknow that I needed two tokens to get there. The bus stopped at Eglinton and Bathurst, and I had to pay a second token before the driver moved on. I didn’t know that my destination was in a new development called the Manor.

Photo: Courtsey of Andy Réti.

Andy Réti on the dance floor, Central Tech dance contest, 725 Bathurst Street, (Toronto, ON), ca. 1958.

Photo: Courtsey of Andy Réti.

I was such a “greener,” and there were so many other things I didn’t know yet, including the fact that we Jews tend to migrate a lot. The time I am reminiscing about is 1958–1960—just after my mother and I arrived in Toronto. The Manor was only the first of many new destinations for Toronto’s Jewish community. Years later when I was a father of two young children, I too moved to another new suburb at Leslie and Greenlane.

In 1960, I also didn’t know that three institutions located in the Manor—the Bathurst Jewish Community Centre (formerly YMHA or Y), Bnai Brith, and the Holocaust Centre—would become an integral, almost central, part of my life. My connections to the Y at Spadina and Bloor started in 1958, where my fellow Hungarians and I met the young ladies who already lived in the Manor or were in the process of moving there. I started my thirty-year volunteer swimming instructor and lifeguarding career at the Y and continued at the BJCC. Years later, I became a survivor speaker at the Holocaust Centre located in the Lipa Green building, right next to the BJCC.

Photo: Courtesy of Andy Réti.

The Hungarians parked behind the Bloor Street Y, Major Street, (Toronto, ON), 1960. Individuals identified in photo: Julius Batori, Peter and Ervin Dan, David Greisman, Miki Andradi, David Greisman, Tom Arandi, Peter Landeszman, Mike Weisz.

Photo: Courtesy of Andy Réti.

The street was Pannahill, and the home had a recreation room in the basement with a wet bar. I had no idea that homes had anything other than an apartment in their basement. Everything was new and exciting: the house, the furniture, the people, the food, the music, the dresses, and, of course, the cars on the driveways and in the streets. We were all car- and girl-crazy—but not necessarily in that order.

Over the years, the friendships and relations changed but the memories are still vivid; it was my first impression of suburbia. Julius, my classmate from Hungary, was the first from our group to get married. He married Drora, a Manor girl. I was the best man at their wedding. That wedding was the beginning for all of us on our way to become adults and to have our own families.

Although I never lived in the Manor, I spent a lot of time there. Until I saw the invitation to contribute to the OJA’s project to collect the history of Jewish life in the Manor, I didn’t consider how much of my life I spent there. It was not the geographical location that mattered or made a difference; it was the people and what we did.

Photo: Courtesy of Andy Réti.

Birthday celebration in Bathurst Manor, [Pannahill Road], (Downsview, ON), ca. 1960. Individuals identified in photo: Julius Batori, Drora Meghori (m. Batori), Tony Alexander, Pam Applebaum, Andy Réti, Mary Citoyen Cohen.

Photo: Courtesy of Andy Réti.

I became a volunteer and eventually a Holocaust survivor speaker after my dear mother passed away in 2005. This is my twenty-second year as a Holocaust educator. I speak to hundreds of people annually. In each presentation, I make it a point to announce that I live in the Bathurst and Sheppard area, which is still a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood.

Since I live on Alexis Boulevard, the first street south of Sheppard, I firmly believe that this makes me an honorary Manorite.

Headshot of Andy RetiAndy at 78; Husband, Father, Grandfather, Survivor Speaker, Writer, Author, Motorcycle rider, and taxi industry veteran. He tells his kids that he has a Phd. in life skills but they don’t listen.

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