New Brunswick

Saint John council votes to demolish historic synagogue

Saint John council has voted to demolish the former Shaarei Zedek Synagogue, which dates back to around 1871.

City has been trying to sell the building that dates back to around 1871 for eight years

The former Shaarei Zedek Synagogue in Saint John was built in 1871, according to Canada's Historic Places register. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Saint John council has given up trying to find a buyer for the former Shaarei Zedek Synagogue and is now looking for someone to tear it down.

The city bought the building for $500,000 in 2008, as part of the Peel Plaza project.

But council voted Tuesday night to declare the building, located at the corner of Carleton Street and Wellington Row, surplus land.

Norman Hamburg, president of the Jewish congregation, isn't surprised. He says the two-storey Neo-Gothic structure, which dates back to around 1871, has outlived its use.

"I think if all the publicity that it's had and the chance that people have had to look at it and look at alternate uses for it have not produced anything, then you know, to just keep it in hopes of somebody coming along doesn't make sense," said Hamburg.

Listen, progress is progress. Everything [that's] old cannot be kept, or doesn't make sense to keep.- Norman Hamburg, Jewish congregation president

"It seems crazy to just let an old building become more and more deteriorated over time and be empty," he said.

"Listen, progress is progress. Everything [that's] old cannot be kept, or doesn't make sense to keep."

Hamburg, who is in his 70s and is a life-long resident, said he has many fond memories of the building, but views it now as a shell.

When the congregation sold it to the city, any significant items were removed and are safely preserved at the Jewish Museum, he explained.

The structure, originally built as a church for the Calvin Presbyterian congregation, had served the Jewish community since 1918.

But when the congregation shrunk from about 275 families to 40 families, it became impractical to keep, said Hamburg.

The congregation had tried to sell the building for a number of years before the city finally bought it, he said.

"There isn't a big market for a big church, or synagogue," he said, noting the building is expensive to heat and would require many upgrades to meet building codes for any change in use.

With files from Shift