While its physical space may have been downsized in 2009, the staff at the Marion & Ed Vickar Jewish Museum of Western Canada haven’t shrunk their ambitions.
In the works for five years, the exhibition A Stitch in Time! Winnipeg Jews & the Garment Industry finally opened this week at the Asper Jewish Community Campus.
The show explores the Jewish presence and influence on Winnipeg’s "schmatta" industry — still visible today in the likes of Raber Glove Manufacturing, Co. Ltd., Mitchell Fabrics, Richlu Manufacturing and Sportswear, Western Glove Works and Silver Jeans Co.
What it amounts to is not merely a classic immigrant story but how the industry has been a large part of that story for successive waves of newcomers and their families to Canada.
"It’s a multicultural industry," says Ilana Abrams, the museum’s general manager, noting that the city’s Filipino community is now a defining presence in the business.
Permanent displays have been removed for the show, which has taken up the entirety of the museum’s present space adjacent to the Berney Theatre.
So large is the array of collected materials that the museum initially conceived of doing the exhibition as a "huge" event off-site, Abrams says.
The exhibition is open to the public at the museum, an arm of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada Inc., until May.
The story of the local industry was also detailed in the 2010 documentary From Rags to Richlu, the story of local apparel industry pioneer Abe Rich, co-founder of Richlu.
Directed by Beth Azore, who studied film at New York University and worked alongside Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore (Fahrenheit 9/11), the doc was included in the Manitoba Documentary Shorts Program, part of Gimme Some Truth: The Winnipeg Documentary Project 2010, featuring short docs commissioned by MTS Winnipeg Video on Demand.
A Stitch in Time combines photographs and archival materials — including advertisements from the Israelite Press and Jewish Post — and also makes use of actual clothing, materials and tools from some of the major manufacturers and suppliers.
The exhibition is really a microcosm of the museum’s much more enormous ongoing project, which is the digitization and hence more-or-less permanent preservation of the Jewish community’s archives.
Some of those editions of the Israelite Press and Jewish Post are over a century old, Abrams points out: "They crumble when touched."
It makes the museum’s task a delicate, but no less necessary one where the demands of the historical record are concerned.
Kenton Smith is a community correspondent for Tuxedo.