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Downsview’s First Synagogue: Beth Am

“If you build it, he will come.”

You may recognize that line from the 1989 hit movie Field of Dreams. The central character, played by Kevin Costner, hears a voice instructing him to build a baseball field in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. If he did, the disgraced ballplayer Shoeless Joe Jackson, would magically appear. And he did.

In the 1950s, a similar impulse drove some pioneers of Toronto’s Jewish community. They believed if they built a synagogue in the middle of a Downsview farmer’s field, a Jewish community would magically appear. And it did, at least for awhile.

By the mid-1950s, Toronto’s Jewish community numbered about 75,000 people. It had already begun its northern migration, out of the downtown core, up to Forest Hill and Cedervale, all the way into North York.

One of the first Jewish families to move to the Downsview area, Lazar and Muriel Natanson opened Moffat's North York Bargain House at 1291 Wilson Avenue in 1951. Images ca. 1955. Ontario Jewish Archives, 2010-6-14.