One organization which served hundreds of men, maybe even a thousand or more, over a span of years was what was known as the Montefiore Club. The club took its name from the great Moses Montefiore a famous Anglo-Italian financier, banker and philanthropist. This was essentially a social organization founded as far back as 1910 with a purpose as the charter stated to “afford Jewish young men to get acquainted with each other, to know each other and to enable them to find congenial surrounding.” These were noble objectives indeed and in fact, the “club” as it was called did establish an outdoor camp along the shore of the Red River. And it did other acts of charitable endeavour over the period of its existence which was close to 100 years. It certainly looked after its membership if there were those who fell on hard times. It did support various causes of local and national importance and did so without expectation of any reward or special recognition. The members of the Montefiore Club in Winnipeg included some of the most well-known citizens of Winnipeg. But it welcomed anyone of any standing. Where it succeeded best was in its objective to get Jewish men to know each other in congenial surroundings.
As much as the goals of the club were of a community service bent, the reality was that the club served three main functions for many years. Firstly, it was a social club. Men gathered there (for many years in clubrooms at 298 Fort Street), particularly on Sunday afternoons, Tuesday and Thursday nights and even Saturday afternoons. They watched TV and mingled. The main aspect of their mingling was the second main role of the club- cards. In its real essence, the Montefiore Club was a card playing institution. Men played cards of every kind, though the preferred games were poker, kalooki, pinochle and bridge. The smoke was heavy in the room with cigarettes and cigars evident throughout the clubrooms. And no one seemed bothered by it. One of the many men who was a regular at the club, a man who did not play cards much himself, was none tother than the Commissioner in the 1960’s of the Canadian Football League, G. Sydney Halter. He liked to stand and watch the men and assess their strategy.
The third function of the club was to serve as a place for lunches and anyone who went to the club for a lunch can remember the sky-high corn beef sandwiches prepared by the chef Dave Klein. He also served suppers and during Passover, the Montefiore Club was one of the very few go to spots for a Passover meal.
Most of all, the club was a place of refuge and relaxation for the men to get away for a few hours to be in the company of their friends and associates. It was no doubt a place where many a business deal was consummated. And not to be forgotten were the dances and parties held there for the men and their spouses.
As the men died off and fewer men replaced them, the membership ultimately declined and the club joined forces with another card playing establishment, which kept the club going for several more years but gradually, the end came. It is believed that the assets of the club were turned over to the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba.
During its tenure of close to 100 years, the Montefiore Club was a significant part of the fabric of the Jewish community of Winnipeg, perhaps not as well known as others but just as vital. More information on the club is available at the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada office.