Ottawa Jewish Archives finding success online despite pandemic challenges

By Angelica Haggert

Archives are witnesses to the past, providing a tangible history of the community — and the Ottawa Jewish Archives’ collection includes family, business congregation and organization materials to preserve the Ottawa Jewish community’s lived experiences. 

The Archives opened in the late 1970s with support from the Ottawa Jewish Historical Society (OJHS) and the Ottawa Jewish Community Council (now Federation), but it originally began as a grassroots idea in 1969. By 1999 the Archives became an official agency of Federation and moved into its own space at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre. Support from both OJHS and Federation continues to this day.

Teigan Goldsmith started as the archivist in 2019 and spent some time acquainting herself with the day-to-day needs of the community — and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the challenges of running the Archives quickly followed. 

“The biggest challenge was that the archives were closed. We’re a place of research, people come in and access material and look at the history,” said Goldsmith. 

So she ran with what she could — improving and increasing the Archives’ online presence, including on social media. 

“I just decided to try to connect with the community as much as possible,” said Goldsmith. “The social media presence wasn’t too big when I got here, so I jumped on that quickly. I started sharing stories and photos and stuff that people would be able to remember.”

The response to the Archives’ online presence has been overwhelmingly positive, with a crowd of “regulars” developing, commenting on posts and sharing their own photos and stories. And even though the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on normal access to the Archives, things are slowly shifting back to some sense of normalcy. 

“The first thing that kind of got put on the backburner that’s been picked back up again is interns. I rely heavily on volunteers and students,” said Goldsmith. Interns help digitize materials, which is crucial to allowing the public to access material remotely. 

“Every archive has a backlog of things not digitized or in a database. I want to have everything accessible. If it’s not available for people to view, what’s the point? The reason we collect this history is so we can read and study it, it’s something tangible to learn from.”

Thanks to Goldsmith’s work online, the Archives will be part of two exciting upcoming events. On Feb. 24, the Archives will be the focus of the Bytown Museum's Beyond Bytown Virtual Talk series. 

The Archives will also be part of Digital Doors Open and are just one of three Heritage organizations that the City of Ottawa has asked to present on resiliency during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Both of these requests came as a result of the organizers being impressed with the Archives online presence.

Every day at the Archives is different as Goldsmith fields requests from the public to view documents and photos, while also juggling organizing, labelling, preserving and digitizing content — but through it all, helping the community is her first priority.

“We’re here to serve the community,” said Goldsmith. “Places of heritage tend to fly under the radar. I want people to know that we’re here, even though the pandemic is going on.”

Get in touch with the Archives at or call Teigan at 613-798-4696 ext. 260.

Follow the Archives on Facebook.


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