Formed in 1880, the Montefiore Club was established by a group of young Jewish men, aged fifteen to twenty-three, in response to a growing need for a social group for their peers. It grew into an exclusive club for many of the wealthiest and most influential members of the Jewish community. The club was named after Sir Moses Montefiore, the influential and highly regarded British Jewish philanthropist well known for rescuing captive Jews around the world and for supporting Jewish settlement in Palestine. In response to the club’s use of his name, Sir Moses not only sent his blessing, but also sent a ten-pound note. A copy of the note was put on display over the club’s entrance.
The club met weekly for readings, essays, debates, and vocal and instrumental music recitals. It relocated three times during its existence, and its members approved the final location at 1195 Guy Street in 1906. The club was remembered for its heroic assistance during a fire in 1918 at the Grey Nuns convent across the street; members helped individuals get out of harm’s way and then temporarily housed the convent’s inhabitants.
Members usually came from wealthy means, and had to demonstrate a lifelong commitment to the Jewish community. In its early years, key members of the Montefiore Club included Maxwell Goldstein, Michael Hirsch, Lyon Cohen, Samuel Jacobs, and Norman Genser. In the second half of the twentieth century, well-known men such as Allan, Harry, and Samuel Bronfman, Samuel Steinberg, Harry Batshaw, David Azrieli, Leo Kolber, and Samuel Godinsky were part of this select club. Members often made major decisions for the Montreal Jewish community, including founding the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies in 1917, and developing the Jewish General Hospital, which opened in 1934.
Despite its influence and commitment to the Jewish community, the club faced a substantial decline in membership beginning in the 1990s. At the beginning of that decade, membership numbered approximately 600; by its final year in 2010, the total plummeted to 72. Initially a very secretive institution, the club opened its doors to the public for the first time in 2005, in an attempt to keep the club running. In August 2010, the Montefiore Club closed its doors for the final time. Concordia University purchased the property the following month.
Compiled by Valérie Beauchemin and David Gilbert
Arnold, Janice. “Montefiore Club Closing Doors After 130 Years.” Canadian Jewish News. 12 Aug. 2010.
“Concordia Purchases Montefiore Club.” Concordia University. Notices: 13 Sept 2010.
Collard, Edward Andrew. Montefiore Club of Montreal Hundredth Anniversary 1880-1980. Publisher n/a, 1980.
King, Joe. and Johanne Schumann. From the Ghetto to the Main: The Story of Jews in Montreal. Montreal: Montreal Jewish Publication Society, 2001.
Kolber, Leo. and L. Ian McDonald. Leo: A Life. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2003.
Lande, Lawrence M. Montefiore Club 1880-1955. Publisher n/a. 1955.
*Images courtesy of Jewish Public Library - Archives.