Jewish Community in Perth, Part Two

Sandra Hoffman
Sandra Hoffman in front of part of the Hoffman-Karakowsky family history on display at Gore Street Flea Market. Photo submitted.
Posted on: November 27, 2019

Last month we discussed the early days of the Jewish Community in Perth. The Hoffman and Karakowsky families were the backbone of the group, and went on to be successful merchants, giving back to their community at the same time.

To recap: David and Rebecca Hoffman came to Perth in 1928, and opened a store on Gore Street at Brock. David was born in 1894 in Yashin, Ukraine. Rebecca, born in 1898, in Sebesh, Russia, was the daughter of Meyer Karakowsky. That store was the future location of Benny K’s store, Benny being the grandson of Meyer Karakowsky, who came to Perth circa 1914. Meyer lived in the stone house on South Street at Beckwith, and was known by the initials “M.K.” David Hoffman founded D. Hoffman & Son.

Family history written in 1976 relates that “The Hoffmans raised three sons: Israel, Joseph and Eli. Israel, the oldest boy, never became part of the family enterprise and went off to war in 1939 as a Pilot Officer with the RCAF. He eventually became a doctor in Ottawa and then was employed by the National Research Council …  Meyer Karakowsky retired in 1940 and moved with his wife to Montreal. By 1943 Joseph had also gone to war, entering the RCAF. The Hoffman family had undergone a change of location from M.K.’s store to a big double house just beside it …” 

In the late fifties, Nelly Cohen arrived in Perth, and an advertisement on Aug. 25, 1960, showed that she had opened a store: “Nelly’s Shoe Store, 64 Foster St., formerly Erwin’s Store.” A Courier from July 30, 1964 advertisement was titled “Demolition of Perth Public School” by Cohen & Cohen Ltd., Ottawa: “Perth representative Nelly Cohen at Nelly’s Shoe Store.” Ironically, Nelly Cohen was not related to the owners of Cohen & Cohen, but the Hoffman family was.

To explain the Hoffman to Cohen connection: Martha Hoffman, sister of David Hoffman, married Max Cohen of Minsk, Russia, who came to Ottawa in 1909. Two of their sons, Abraham (Al) and Harold Cohen, started the Cohen & Cohen demolition business in Ottawa in 1963. The company became legendary for its scrap recycling and re-use store, and the brothers were affectionately known as “Mr. Brass” and “Mr. Copper.” 

Canadian Jewish Heritage Network records indicate that “Agudath Achim Congregation was created in Perth on Dec. 16, 1946 and in 1947 obtained the building at 15 – 17 Harvey Street in the Town of Perth.” Among the first directors were Louis Karakowsky, Abraham Cohen, David Hoffman, Joseph Hoffman, Boris Haber, Isadore Levine and Harry Handler. The Synagogue was closed in 1980, due to insufficient numbers. 

Probably the best-known member of the Karakowsky family was Benny, known to all as “Benny K.” He was the epitome of the idiom “larger than life,” because although his physical stature was relatively small, he was a gregarious soul with a heart of gold. Recently, lifelong Perth resident Al Chaplin remembered Benny K. as very generous when it came to hockey. “Benny K. supported Perth Minor Hockey events, and although it was not well known, supported needy kids with equipment,” said Chaplin. Benny K. was also an ardent fan of the Perth Blue Wings Junior hockey team.

In 1977, the Karakowsky family tree was officially installed in Ottawa’s National Museum of Man, as reported in The Perth Courier in February 1978: “Last October when the Queen opened a new gallery in the National Museum of Man in Ottawa, there was one display of particular interest to the people of Perth and district. This was the Karakowsky Family Tree, 1823-1975 which is on permanent display …” In addition, both the Hoffman and Karakowsky family trees are recorded in the National archives of Canada.

An excellent piece on Eli Hoffman appeared in the Feb. 23, 1983, edition of The Perth Courier, written by locally renowned newsman and bluesman Steve Forster. He said of Hoffman at the time: “With his concern for community and involvement in local service groups, Eli Hoffman is one of many hard-working Perthites who make up the backbone of a vital, growing municipality.”

When Eli passed away on May 28, 2017, his son Aaron became the last Jewish merchant in the Town of Perth. He currently operates Gore Street Flea Market, with his mother Sandra. Gore Street Flea Market has a large display of family history, including the Hoffman and Karakowsky family trees, which were meticulously penned in calligraphic style by Inge Hoffman of Ottawa in 1975.

According to a paper by Zvi Gitelman, written in 1973, the intensity of Jewish migration from Europe to the Americas between 1840 and 1946 was four times that of the general European population. Perth was indeed fortunate that some of those people found their way to this small town.

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Column by Terry O’Hearn