Ottawa Jewish Archives displays 100-year history of Jewish Scout Troop

By Teigan Goldsmith

As one has come to expect from Ottawa, we have our own unique and influential history in almost every area of Jewish life and scouting is no exception. The Ottawa Jewish Archives has unveiled a new display, recounting the history of Jewish Scouting in Ottawa, and it will be up for the entire summer. The display was constructed by Archives assistants, Michaela Bax-Leaney and Emma Bower in early June and follows a “then and now” theme, showcasing items and photographs from the 1930s to the early 2000s.

The Boy Scout’s organization was first formed in 1908 in England under the direction of Robert Baden-Powell and was a predominantly Christian organization. The history of Jewish scouting in Ottawa began more than a century ago, around 1918, when sports legend Jess Abelson formed the 39th Scout pack with the belief that Ottawa’s Jewish boys would benefit from Scouts. Although the 39th was not the first Jewish scout group in Canada, it was one of the first, and certainly the first in Ottawa’s history.  

The left side of the display case spotlights the early years of scouting, particularly the 1940s and features two scout uniforms, a Girl Guides “Brownie” uniform, Scout guidebooks, and badges. 

Scouting quickly became popular among Ottawa’s Jewish youth; at one point the 39th troop had 93 scouts, making it the largest troop in Ottawa at that time. The 1940s saw an uptick in Scout activity in part due to the Second World War. Those on the Homefront were expected to help in the war effort and Scouts assisted by performing duties such as scrap collection, knitting, sewing, and working on farms. One scout, who took his role in Scouts seriously, was Abe Hochberg z”l. Abe became involved with the Scouts as a teenager in the 1940s. Despite being too young to enlist during the Second World War, he amassed 300 War Hours and more proficiency badges than any of his fellow scouts. When Abe came of age later in the 1940s, he became a Scout Leader for the group. His uniform, which displays his 300-hour badge and other honours, is currently on display. 

Between 1974 and 1989, the scouting movement in Ottawa's Jewish community became inactive. In 1989, under the leadership of past scout Howie Osterer z”l, Scouts was resurrected. It was around this time the name of the troop was changed to the 39th Henry “Hank” Torontow z”l Scouting Movement to honour Torontow’s distinguished meritorious service as a Director of Scouting between 1957 and 1971. Scouts continued well into the 1990s and early 2000s. In 1991, the 39th became the first troop in Ontario to make all levels co-ed.  

The 39th troop was an integral part of community life with many young men transitioning from Scouts to Scout leaders once they reached a certain age. A number of our well-known community leaders found their footing in scouts. Names like Abe Slone z”l, Jacob Greenberg z”l, Harold Shaffer z”l, Harold Rubin z”l, Hy Maser z”l, Arnold Borts z”l, Sam Ages z”l and Jack Goldfield z”l are just a few of the young men who passed through the 39th. 

Today, the 39th troop is inactive and has been since the mid 2000s. 

The Scouts display will be up for the remainder of the summer and can be found inside the Soloway JCC, down the hall from the Greenberg Families Library. To learn more about the history of the 39th scout troop and Jewish Scouting in Ottawa, check out the Archive’s new display, or contact the Archives at or 613-798-4696 ext. 260.

--Teigan Goldsmith is the head Archivist at the Ottawa Jewish Archive