Southern African Legacy Project

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 5,000 Jews from South Africa were living in Toronto.

The OJA realized that its vast collection of material relating to Jewish immigration was missing the fascinating stories of immigrants who arrived in Ontario after the Second World War, including those from South Africa and Zimbabwe. Recognizing the importance of actively pursuing material from the more recent immigrant waves that have really shaped today’s community, the OJA launched the Southern African Legacy Project (SALP) in 2014. 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.

As part of this project, OJA archivists are meeting with Southern African immigrants to hear their stories and collect photographs, letters, speeches, scrapbooks and other records detailing their experiences in Southern Africa and Ontario. To complement the archival material, the OJA is also recording oral history interviews with a small sample of individuals representing different cross-sections of the community, such as people who immigrated in different eras and at different life stages. The collection that is emerging holds a wealth of information about Ontario’s Jewish South 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, and the important role they have played in Ontario’s Jewish community.

Watch the Highlight Reel

Ivor Simmons Canadian Immigration ID Card, 1963. OJA, accession #2015-6/3.
Ivor Simmons Canadian Immigration ID Card, 1963. OJA, accession #2015-6/3.

SALP Committee

The OJA’s project is being 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. We gratefully thank them for their generous assistance, time, advice and support.

How To Participate

To be a part of this exciting initiative, please contact OJA Assistant Archivist Faye Blum at or 416-635-5391 x. 5183.

Below are examples of what we collect:

Candle lighting at Jeremy David Cohen’s Bar Mitzvah, 1992. Ontario Jewish Archives, accession 2015-3-8.Family photographs and videos: family portraits, images/videos of weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, your first few years/winters in Canada, your first home in Ontario, celebrating Jewish holidays in Ontario, recreation/hobbies, cottage life, Jewish summer camps, cooking in your kitchen, images relating to important hobbies, etc.

Personal documents: memoirs, speeches delivered at family events (e.g. weddings, anniversaries, etc.), eulogies, journals/diaries, correspondence with family and friends, invitations to family events (such as, weddings, bar mitzvahs, etc.) unique recipe books/cookbooks, etc.

Immigration records: correspondence relating to your immigration, shipping container lists, travel tickets, photographs of your journey, etc.

Dr. Mark Friedlander during the 1994 March of the Living program where he volunteered as a chaperone and physician. OJA, accession #2016-2/2.

Jewish communal involvement: newsletters, meeting minutes, speeches, event invitations/programs, photos or other documents from Jewish organizations/clubs that you are involved with, etc.

Records related to career: Photographs showing you at work/events/award ceremonies, correspondence, event invitations/programs, speeches, writings, etc.

Business records: Business plans, photographs, promotion/publicity materials, flyers, advertisements, correspondence, inventory lists, audited annual financial statements, etc

Post card sent by Morris Robinson to his wife on his way to Canada, 1978. OJA, accession #2016-3/60.
Post card sent by Morris Robinson to his wife on his way to Canada, 1978. OJA, accession #2016-3/60.

Additional Information

  • We collect records from all time periods (nothing is too old or too recent)
  • Our focus is on your life in Ontario (although a selection of material documenting your life pre-Ontario is relevant)
  • The amount of material you provide is up to you (it could range from one single item to 50 boxes or more)
  • The records you provide don’t need to directly relate to the fact that you are from South Africa, but there does need to be material relating to your life in Ontario.

The Collection

This pilot project has been a tremendous success so far! While the OJA previously held almost no material on the Southern African community, it now holds a rich collection of material representing the stories of over 90 Southern Africans! And, the collection continues to grow every day.

We have collected:

  • Over 2000 photographs
  • Over 130,000 MegaBytes of digital images and textual records (or over 800 electronic files)
  • Over 2 metres of textual records (or around 10,000 pieces of paper)
  • Over 500 minutes of video
  • Over 60 issues of the SAJAC News
  • Over 640 recipes
  • Over 2000 minutes of recorded oral history interviews
Screen shot from Shirley Silberg's oral history, 3 Sept. 2015.
Screen shot from Shirley Silberg's oral history, 3 Sept. 2015.
Percy Skuy in South Africa, 1948. OJA, accession #2015-5/2.
Percy Skuy in South Africa, 1948. OJA, accession #2015-5/2.

Online Exhibition

The OJA's exciting new website featuring the fascinating stories of this community through the presentation of recorded oral histories and highlights of collected photographs and documents is now live! The oral history clips on the website illustrate key themes common to all stories: leaving South Africa and Zimbabwe, arrival in Canada, adjusting to Canadian life, Jewish/Canadian identity, contributions, and ties to home.


Michael Heilbronn and his wife, Rose, after completing the Toronto Marathon, Oct. 1980. OJA, accession #2016-6/5.
Michael Heilbronn and his wife, Rose, after completing the Toronto Marathon, Oct. 1980. OJA, accession #2016-6/5.

Southern African Jewish Community Study

As part of the Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre’s South African Legacy Project, we have commissioned an important study to examine the demographic profile of ex-Southern African Jews living in Toronto and to examine the impact their immigration has had on their life and Jewish identity.