Heritage and Historical Archaeology 

Overhead map of The Emanu-El Cemetery listed as “Jewish Cemetery” this is where our Anthropology field school will be taking place over the next 3 weeks. (Photo from The Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria, accessed May 13, 2017.)

I have walked past Emanu-El Jewish Cemetery almost every day since I moved to the neighbourhood two years ago. Cemeteries don’t make me uncomfortable, however, I don’t tend to go into them as I don’t know anyone who has been buried on the Island and I have never attended a funeral in a cemetery before. Therefore, although I have considered the monuments themselves to be intriguing as well as the dates and ages of those buried to be interesting, I hadn’t actually considered what kind of story a particular cemetery or a burial plot could tell me.

Today, for our first day in the field, we were able to walk through Emanu-El with a wonderful tour guide and community historian, Amber Woods. Amber brought with her both an incredible wealth of knowledge, which included many stories and photos of those buried here, but also an understandable pride and genuine excitement at being involved in this process. She has worked hard to uncover some of the mysteries of those buried in Emanu-El and has been able to compile plenty of thought-provoking stories and information about those who have been buried here. It’s great to know we are getting involved in something that can further help to uncover some more of the unknowns here and to provide more information for those in the Jewish community.

Archaeology and death are often correlated; however, it is in contemporary archaeology that I find myself to be provided with a much richer understanding of those people, as their experiences often seem so similar to my everyday experience. Today we heard stories of people struggling to choose a career path and of the rent for businesses in downtown Victoria being too expensive. These are things that so closely relate to our current lives and show a life history of those buried here which no longer feels like so long ago. One story Amber relayed to us involved Max Leiser, who was an importer of wine, liquor and cigars and he built, what we Victorians now know to be, Shine café. Knowing the history of a place like Shine Café, which I have been to many times, like many of the heritage buildings around Victoria is so neat, I’m excited to learn more about the people who are located at Emanu-El as well as the history of Victoria as well.

A current photo of the well-known Shine Café in Victoria B.C. on the corner of Blanshard and Johnson (Photo from Shine Café photo gallery, accessed May 11, 2017.)

A photo of what is now Shine Café, at this time called The Cecil Hotel, southwest corner of Johnson and Blanshard Streets, Victoria; formerly the Kaiserhof Hotel built by Max Leiser. (Photo from Royal BC Museum BC archives. 1934. accessed May 11, 2017.)

There are many Jewish customs that I did not understand prior to beginning this course, but even after one day in the field and one day in the classroom I have a much greater appreciation for all that relates to the burials, visits and departures of a Jewish cemetery. For example, I had previously noticed there was a sink located near the exit of Emanu-El, but I didn’t think anything of its significance, Erin explained to us that the sink was there as it relates to an important Jewish custom, stating that when one leaves the cemetery washing your hands symbolises a disassociation to death, we have been invited to partake in this practise as well. Further to this, we learned why it is common for stones and not flowers to be placed on grave markings in Jewish cemeteries, this is due to the belief that flowers are a reminder of death as they will not survive, but stones, and coins, as we saw around the monument of Lewis Lewis will last.

A Jewish monument that has been decorated with stones that are often left by loved ones. ( Wolpe, Rabbi David. Putting Stones on Jewish Graves, accessed May 11, 2017.)

To no real surprise, as many of us are used to classic rainy spring weather in Victoria, on our first day of field school, located entirely outdoors, it poured rain the whole day. We were soaking wet and knew that to begin recording would be futile without proper cover for our notebooks, we called it a day after the tour knowing that we would have to prepare for rain or shine for our following class. My major takeaway from field school day one was to know that people are absolutely dedicated to ensuring the preservation of the many beautiful monuments located in Emanu-El, as well as the rich and deeply intriguing histories, that not only relates to Victoria’s Jewish community, but to Victoria as a whole.