From Women’s Organizations to Montreal Show Biz

By Ben

For my final semester in McGill’s Master of Information Studies program I’ve worked as a practicum student in the Jewish Public Library Archives under supervision of Director of Archives, Shannon Hodge. I’ve had an invaluable experience working through the archival process – from physical storage, to file description and digitization – and have learned a great deal about Montreal’s Jewish community in doing so!

My primary project has been processing 1.05 linear meters of textual and audiovisual records from the Young Men’s-Young Women’s Hebrew Association of Montreal. The records span the history of the organization, from the turn of the 20th century up into the present, and speak to the administrative, programming, arts, recreation, sports, and financial activities of this cornerstone of Montreal’s Jewish community. Of the many subjects included, I particularly enjoyed learning about the Young Women’s Hebrew Association, which existed as an independent group prior to its 1950 merger with the Young Men’s Hebrew Association. I attached a subject access term to all of the materials related to the YWHA that I encountered, so these records will be less likely to fall between the cracks in the future!

Another project I’ve tackled has been the description and digitization of a portion of the Allan Raymond photographs collection. These snapshots were taken around France during World War II and offer a unique glimpse into Raymond’s travels through Europe, where he took photographs and traded snapshots with other photographers he encountered. The photos collected largely depict the immense physical damage inflicted on towns and urban centers during the war and the abandoned streets abutting the destruction. Several other interesting photos show marching columns of German prisoners of war, sometimes sharing the city streets with civilian onlookers. The digitized portion of this collection is available for viewing online at the Canadian Jewish Heritage Network website.

In my final weeks at the JPL I’ve worked on digitizing several audiocassettes from the Sam Gesser Fonds. Gesser was a Montreal-born music impresario, producer and distributor for Folkways Records, CBC script writer, and playwright. The digitized cassettes consist of several interviews with him from 2006-2007 where he describes his childhood in the Plateau-Mont-Royal area in the 1930-40s as well as most every aspect of his professional career, including numerous anecdotes about his concert bookings for musicians from Pete Seeger and Nina Simone, to Prince and Liberace. These recordings are a wonderful insight into Montreal’s musical and cultural history as well as Gesser’s fascinating life as a whole.

This practicum has been a great opportunity to explore the archives and to unearth some of the valuable materials that have been waiting to be discovered therein. In my short time here I’ve encountered an amazingly diverse array of records, which are only a small sample of the JPL’s collections. There’s always another box to process in the world of archives, but I’m happy to have made a few more available and hope they will be to the benefit of research done at the JPL and CJHN!

Below is a selection of the images from the Allan Raymond collection.  Visit the CJHN or contact us directly for more information.

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