Museum’s live virtual tours bring historic Jewish Montreal to life

One of the most rewarding aspects of this project, tour guides say, is the opportunity to connect and share stories with former Montrealers who now live across Canada, the US and further abroad. 

At a time when connection is more crucial than ever, the Museum of Jewish Montreal has launched its first-ever live virtual tour, Making Their Mark: A Virtual Tour of Historic Jewish Montreal. 

Facing restrictions on travel and gathering, many former Montrealers or frequent visitors to Montreal have found themselves longing to return to places they once visited or called home. The Museum is bringing families, friends, and strangers together, despite the distance between them, for a meaningful cultural experience and a new type of tourism.

In a unique take on digital culture and heritage, the Museum has transformed one of its most popular in-person walking tours into an online experience.

Hosted live by a museum guide, the tour combines maps and storytelling with archival images, contemporary photography, soundscapes and oral histories to take visitors through Montreal’s vibrant Plateau neighbourhood, the city’s historic Jewish quarter.

“Montreal’s Jewish community is famous for its bagels and smoked meat sandwiches, which have become emblematic of the city, or for celebrated artists like Leonard Cohen and Mordecai Richler – but there is so much more to this community’s story, and that’s what we want to show guests on this tour,” says Renée Filbey, who led the team developing the tour.

The tour covers 70 years and 10 city blocks, starting at the turn of the 20th century, when the Plateau was a working-class area, home to thousands of Jewish immigrants fleeing hardship or persecution in Eastern Europe. Visitors then make their way back to the present, stopping at eight important locations to explore the challenges that new Jewish immigrants experienced when seeking work, healthcare and education upon arrival. Despite these challenges, Montreal’s Jewish community would go on to have a profound influence on the city’s arts, culture, food, politics, and social development, leaving a rich heritage that the Museum shares through its acclaimed guided walking tours.

In an especially challenging year, compounded by the sudden loss of the Museum’s space on Boulevard St-Laurent in June, adapting to online programming has not been easy.

“This was a very experimental project, and at the beginning, we weren’t sure what a virtual tour would look like,” says Renée. “The most important aspects of a walking tour are chatting with an expert and getting to know a new city, or learning more about a city you love. By hosting the tour live, we’ve been able to preserve that important social element.”

Bringing Former Montrealers Home From Afar

One of the most rewarding aspects of this project, tour guides say, is the opportunity to connect and share stories with former Montrealers who now live across Canada, the US and further abroad. Many of these visitors grew up in the Plateau neighbourhood, but haven’t returned in years – or can not return currently. As one visitor explained, “I was born in Montreal, spent most of my life there, and moved to Toronto with my late husband 20 years ago… It was wonderful to be able to see ‘old Montreal’ and discuss the history of Jewish life in Montreal.”

“It’s amazing to see people recognize themselves and their family histories in the stories we are sharing,” says Renée. “Many visitors have generously shared their own stories as they realize that we are looking at the school they went to as a child, the synagogue they attended with their family, or the factory their parents worked at after arriving in Canada. Even for non-Montrealers, our tour tells a very universal story of immigration – arriving in a new place and seeking a sense of belonging.”

The Museum is now hosting tours for community and school groups as well as public tours, held every weekend. To reserve your spot, register here.

To book a private group tour, contact Renée Filbey at tours@imjm.ca

— Museum of Jewish Montreal

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