Former synagogue in Lowertown closer to heritage status despite owner's disapproval

A former synagogue in Lowertown — once home to Ottawa's first Jewish congregation — is one step closer to achieving special heritage status, even though the building's current owner doesn't appear to be in favour of the move.

Adath Jeshurun Synagogue built in 1904 for Ottawa's first Jewish congregation

Completed in 1904, the Adath Jeshurun Synagogue was home to Ottawa's first Jewish congregation. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

A former synagogue in Lowertown — once home to Ottawa's first Jewish congregation — is one step closer to achieving special heritage status, even though the building's current owner doesn't appear to be in favour of the move.

Completed in 1904, the Adath Jeshurun Synagogue at 375 King Edward Ave. was the city's first purpose-built synagogue. It was converted into the Jewish Community Memorial Chapel in 1957 before being sold to the Seventh-day Adventists in 1999.

In April 2014, the Lowertown Community Association filed a request with the city to designate the building under the Ontario Heritage Act. Last week the city's built heritage sub-committee agreed, recommending heritage designation to the planning committee, which meets next Tuesday, April 26.
A Star of David remains on the Seventh-day Adventist Church on King Edward Avenue, formerly the Adath Jeshurun Synagogue. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury isn't a member of the planning committee, but said there's plenty of support on council for heritage status for the building.

"We're fully supportive of it," Fleury said. "It's located near Rideau [Street], it's got an interesting design. Obviously it's very reflective of the Jewish community in Lowertown, their importance," he said.

Current owner not in favour of designation

Heritage Ottawa also supports the heritage designation, but the Seventh-day Adventist congregation that currently owns the building doesn't.

"The pastor of the congregation at 375 King Edward Ave. was notified of the designation and has indicated they are not in favour of the designation," according to the staff report. Calls by CBC News to the church weren't returned.

"I know that the current religious group that's in the synagogue has some concerns, but we haven't met with them so far," said Fleury.

Nevertheless, Fleury said he expects the recommendation to win the approval of planning committee and council.

'It was a fixture in the community'

Members of Ottawa's Jewish community also support heritage designation for the building.

"It was a fixture in the community," said Saara Mortensen, an archivist with the Ottawa Jewish Archives. "It was a place of gathering. It was a place where people were memorialized and commemorated. It was where people met to pray together."

Prior to the synagogue's construction, Jewish people who settled in Ottawa in the late 19th Century met in homes and other locations to worship, according to Mortensen. On top of its cultural significance, the former synagogue is also recognized for its Romanesque architectural style.
Saara Mortensen is an archivist with the Ottawa Jewish Archives. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

Mortensen is eager to see council approve the designation. "I think the community will really appreciate that, because it's a well-known fact that it was really sad for this community to let that building go in the 90s," she said, 

"And I think that giving it heritage designation will ensure that its legacy is preserved."

Read the city staff report on 375 King Edward Ave.