Tuesday May 31st was our last day in the field at the Congregation Emanu-el cemetery. It is now the time for my fellow classmates and myself to take to the pen or in this case, to the keyboard to compile our research into reports, presentation posters, blog entries, and videos. Some of us will continue our work this summer at Congregation Emanu-El Cemetery as volunteers; continuing with the data collection, data entry, the cleaning of headstones and monuments and possibly researching and compiling the archives from Congregation Emanu-El Synagogue and Cemetery.
For myself I have been inspired to do some further research over the last three weeks that has taken me beyond the motifs, inscriptions, dates and names on the monuments. When caring for the grave markers of loved-ones who have been laid to rest in this peaceful cemetery it is hard not to want to put faces and stories to these names. Working all these hours at Congregation Emanu-El cemetery has left me wanting to know more about the early Jewish pioneers, their histories and what brought them to Victoria over 150 years ago. Many of those memorialize in Congregation Emanu-El cemetery came to our beautiful city before Canada was a county and they are responsible for laying the groundwork for the thriving retail and tourism industries here in Victoria. One of these couples was Mr. and Mrs. A.A (Alfred) Aaronsson. (Congregation Emanu-El, 2013, p. 62).
Unlike other founders members of the Jewish community there is not much written about Andrew Alfred Aaronson and his wife Rose. If it was not for the beautiful monument made of red granite marking their plots I might not have come across this couple. The first time I saw it was during our tour that Dr. Rick Kool (who is the cemetery director) gave the class on our first visit on May 12, 2016. Later when our Professor, Dr. Erin McGuire was going over the various Motifs we would be seeing on the headstones and the monuments at Congregation Emanu-El cemetery we visited the Aaronson’s plot again. A.A. Aaronson was a member of the fraternal order of Woodmen of the World that was founded in 1890. (Stott, 2003, p.1).
Later that day when I was reading my copy Sefer Emanu-El: 150 years of Victoria’s Jewish History I came across their names once again. This was the third time in one day I had come across information about two of the founding members of this community. My curiosity was peaked about these two “curio traders” (Congregation Emanu-El, 2013, p.62). What struck me the most about the early Jewish curio traders was some “became skilled as linguistics and respected as ethnographers.” (Congregation Emanual-El). Of course as an aspiring ethnographer myself, (and a heritage and historical archaeologist) I had to know more. At first it was difficult to find any information about the Aaronson’s until I came across a gem of a book at the library called Pioneer Jews of British Columbia. In this book there is a chapter written by Sarah H. Tobe; finally, some of my curiosity about Victoria’s early curio dealers could be satiated.
Aaronson’s retail career started in Victoria when he opened a pawnbroker business in the location that is now known as 1300 Government Street. (Tobe, 2005, p. 196). Aaronson then saw an opportunity for a niche market as the tourist industry on Vancouver Island started to get underway and “acted as an agent for high quality indigenous art.” (Tobe, 2005, p.198). When he past away, his wife Rose continued with her own curio business that operated at 109 Government Street and continued running this curio shop for five years.
The Congregation Emanu-El Cemetery contains such a rich history of not only the Jewish community’s history but of Victoria’s history. I include myself in a group of a lucky few who have had an opportunity to assist in preserving these remarkable stories.
Congregation Emanu-El. 2013. Sefer Emanu-El: 150 years of Victoria’s Jewish History.
Stott, A. 2003, The Woodmen of the World Monument Program’ Markers. (20), pp.
1-29, in America: History and Life. [online]
Tobe, S. H. 2005. Victoria’s Curo Dealers. In: G. Sturnman & D. W. Epstein. eds.
Pioneer Jews of British Columbia. Vancouver: Jewish Historical Society of British Columbia. pp. 187-201.