March 2024 Curriculum Tips

March 1, 2024

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March 2024 Curriculum Tips

By E.Kingsbury, FSWC Senior Educator

Strand A. Experiences and contributions of Jewish communities in Canada and the impact of antisemitism on these communities

A3.7 describe significant events or developments in the history of Jewish communities in Canada, including some of the ways they have contributed to Canada.

This International Women’s Day, build curriculum connections between Canada’s rich immigration history and the individual stories of Jewish women who immigrated to Canada in the early 20th century, many of whom defied the gender expectations of their time by entering the public sphere to fight for social reform. The story of Dorothy Dworkin (née Goldstick) vividly reflects the incredible contributions made by Jewish women to Canada’s social, educational, and medical institutions in the early 1900s.

Born into a large Jewish family in Windau in the Russian Empire (now Ventspils, Latvia), Dorothy was the seventh of 11 children. The entire family immigrated to Canada in 1904, settling in Toronto where Dorothy would make her mark as a pioneer in the city’s women’s health community. In 1907 at age 17, she became a maternity nurse, spending time at Mount Sinai Hospital in Cleveland where she trained in midwifery. That same year, Dorothy helped to establish a free Jewish Medical Dispensary, the first of its kind in Canada, to serve Toronto’s growing community of Jewish newcomers. In 1910, she also helped form a women’s auxiliary unit for the dispensary which raised awareness and the funds needed to establish Toronto’s first Jewish orphanage.

Somehow, Dorothy also found time for family. In 1911, Dorothy married Henry Dworkin. Their daughter, Honey, was born a year later. The Dworkins soon gained a reputation as one of the most influential couples in 1920s Toronto and advocated for Jewish immigration from Europe to Canada amid growing antisemitism through Henry and his brother’s business, E. & H. Dworkin Steamship and Bankers (later Dworkin Travel). Tragically, Henry died in a car accident in 1928.

Dorothy’s work as a medical and social reformer continued to be her key passion. In 1922, she helped establish the Toronto Jewish Convalescent and Maternity Hospital, later renamed Mount Sinai Hospital. She believed in its necessity due to the antisemitism experienced by Jewish patients at the Toronto General Hospital, which refused to accommodate the language needs of Yiddish-speaking immigrants and failed to meet Jewish dietary restrictions.  The city’s first Jewish hospital not only responded to the antisemitism faced by patients in other medical institutions; it also hired Jewish doctors and nurses, who were denied learning opportunities and privileges at Toronto’s other hospitals.

Dorothy remained active in the family business and supportive of Mount Sinai Hospital until her death in 1976 at age 86. In 2009, she was honoured by the Canadian government as a Person of National Historic Significance. Her life remains a testament to the resilience, determination, and compassion possessed by many immigrants who helped build key institutions in Toronto and elsewhere in Canada in the 20th century.


Ontario Jewish Archives

Sinai Health Foundation: