Thornhill-Vaughan Neighbourhood Profile
Canada's Largest Jewish Suburb
By Elysse Zarek, revised by Sarah Bleiwas
Thornhill, which begins at Steeles Avenue, is the area directly north of Toronto. It straddles two municipalities within the larger York Region – Vaughan and Markham – with Yonge Street forming the dividing line between them. Vaughan and Markham each administer their halves of Thornhill independently, so in this article, both Thornhills are hyphenated with their municipalities to avoid confusion.
The area that is now the city of Vaughan was first explored in 1615 by French explorer Etienne Brule. The first pioneers didn’t arrive until after the American Revolution ended in 1783. Vaughan’s size increased slowly until World War Two, when huge influxes of immigrants settled in the area, and development has boomed since then.
The City of Vaughan offers a variety of housing types from townhouses, condominiums, apartments and semi-detached and single homes to a wide selection of estate homes. Over three-quarters of Vaughan residents live in single detached homes. The large majority of Vaughan's residents live in the southern portions of the city, namely within the communities of Woodbridge, Thornhill and Concord. Maple has experienced the greatest increase in size over the last few years, while Kleinburg continues to maintain a rural, small town setting. With ongoing growth, the City of Vaughan's main communities have blended together creating a diverse suburban centre within the GTA.
Thornhill-Vaughan appears as the epitome of suburbia, with single-detached home and carefully manicured lawns. It’s a safe and kid-friendly middle-class neighbourhood offering a full range of services including parks, libraries and recreational facilities. Metallic-coloured minivans and sports utility vehicles are the transportation methods of choice in this area. Many condos have sprung up in the area to accommodate the rising number of baby boomers.
Thornhill-Vaughan is home to a significant proportion of Canada’s Jewish population. Within the neighbourhood, there are several dozen Jewish institutions and community resources: more than 65 Jewish schools, synagogues, restaurants and stores.
Ruth T. was living in Kingston, Ontario when she and her husband decided to move back to Toronto.
"I didn't want to grow old in Kingston. It has a small Jewish population and I wanted to be around some Jews," she says.
Thornhill-Vaughan by the numbers
55,730: neighbourhood population*
32,054: number of Jews**
3,758: number of Jewish seniors **
220: Yiddish-speaking households *
1355:Hebrew-speaking households *
815: Russian-speaking households *
$569,000: median price for single detached home
$1,600: average rent for two-bedroom apartment
* 2001 Canada Census
** UIA Canada's National Task Force of Jewish Demographics, 2009
There are more than 55,000 people in Thornhill-Vaughan, of whom nearly 32,000 are Jews. Over the past decade, the Jewish population of Thornhill-Vaughan has increased by more than 60 per cent. According to Statistics Canada, 29.6 per cent of all Jews in Vaughan are under 15 years of age and 18.2% are 15-24 years of age. And, it should come as no surprise that there are more Jews in York Region than there are from Dufferin Street west to the Pacific Ocean.
“The neighbourhood is Jewish, there are lots of young families and lots of little kids on the street,” says Shimmy Wenner, the father of two young children.
Thornhill-Vaughan has a high
oncentration of Orthodox Jews.
To meet their needs, several Orthodox synagogues have established themselves in the neighbourhood. The most prominent synagogue in the neighbourhood is known by the acronym BAYT (house in Hebrew) - Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation.
Beth Chabad Israeli Community Centre is a central resource for all Israeli immigrants. Shabbat and holiday services are held at the Chabad Community Centre, 770 Chabad Gate.
Many smaller Orthodox congregations are also located in Thornhill-Vaughan. Bais Franklin, for example, has a popular woman's program and Chabad at Flamingo houses a preschool and Hebrew school in addition to offering Shabbat and weekday shul services.
The Sephardic Kehila Centre is a hug of Sephardic Jewish life housing several congregations, a school, day camp, pool, daycare and Oneg Shabbat programs. Executive director Maurice Benzacar estimates that there are about 3,000 to 5,000 Sephardic families in the Greater Toronto Area, of which about 1,500 are registered with his centre. Zareinu Education Centre of Metropolitan Toronto is also situated there.
Beit Rayim Synagogue is Conservative egalitarian and currently holds for services in TanenbaumCHAT on the Lebovic Jewish Community Campus. Neshamah Congregation of York Region is a new Reform congregation. It meets for services every other Friday night in Thornhill Woods.
The reasons for this are primarily demographic. Most Conservative and Reform synagogues were built in the 1950s and 1960s, when the Jewish community was situated farther south. Many people living in Thornhill-Vaughan commute to shuls in midtown Toronto.
This being said, during the High Holidays, the Conservative-style B'nai Shalom Congregation holds very large services in the auditorium of a central community centre. "The service is beautiful, and every year people come from far and wide to attend," one congregant explains.
There are over a dozen different Jewish educational programs to choose from in Thornhill-Vaughan, ranging from preschools, day schools and supplementary schools to adult education programs.
There are two Jewish daycare centres in the community - Alef Bet has a kosher menu and English/Hebrew curriculum, and Loving Care Daycare Centre aims to prepare children for the academic level in day schools. (For a more inclusive listing of daycares, contact Jewish Information Service of Greater Toronto, firstname.lastname@example.org)
For elementary school-age children, Associated Hebrew Schools branch on Atkinson Road serves several hundred students from nursery to grade eight. The school prides itself on its ivrit b’ivrit program, meaning that Judaic studies are taught in Hebrew from the early grades.
Shimmy Wenner, who sends his children to Associated, chose the school because he agrees with its religious principles. “My wife and I both went to Associated and we felt that it was scholastically very high. We are modern Orthodox and feel that it’s an appropriate school for our kids,” he says.
A few blocks away are Netivot HaTorah Day School and Leo Baeck Day School. Leo Baeck is a Reform school with about 650 students on its two campuses (the second campus is at Holy Blossom Temple in Forest Hill). Netivot HaTorah is an Orthodox Zionist day school. Both schools go from kindergarten to grade eight.
Other schools in the area include Joe Dwek Or Haemet an Orthodox day school with a Hebrew and English curriculum and with emphasis on Sephardic traditions, and Eitz Chaim Day School, a large Orthodox school with separate branches for girls, boys and mixed.
For a supplementary Jewish education, Temple Kol Ami is an option, as is the NCSY. Neshamah Congregation of York Region also offers Sunday Religious and weekday Hebrew School.
For high school, many Jewish students commute to the new TanenbaumCHAT -Kimel Family Education Centre in Thornhill Woods. Even at the local public high school, the majority of the students are Jewish and the school virtually shuts down for the High Holidays due to lack of attendance.
For adult education, Aish HaTorah offers evening and weekend courses with names such as “Love and your soul mate” and “Kings, cowards and a pinch of flour.” Aish20s, as the name suggests, gives Jews in their 20s a chance to meet each other. They have a weekly education/shmooze program and occasional Shabbat dinners that attract a crowd.
Kachol Lavan:The School for Hebrew and Israeli Studies offers Hebrew classes for childen and adults at all levels and is located at Leo Baeck. The program emphasizes Israeli and Jewish cultural values and is open on Sundays.
Shops and services
When it comes to one-stop shopping, the plaza to visit is the Springfarm Market Place, more commonly known as the Sobey’s Plaza because of the supermarket on the west side. Although it is part of a national grocery chain, Sobey’s knows the local market. It has the largest kosher food section of any supermarket in the country, with more than 10,000 products: three rows of kosher-only drygoods, kosher dairy and frozen food sections, a kosher bakery, a kosher deli and a kosher meat and fish counter. And it’s likely the only grocery store in Ontario where you can hear announcements like “Rabbi to aisle two” crackle over the intercom. Every Thursday evening and Friday morning, the store is full of people picking up food for Shabbat.
There are several kosher restaurants in the same plaza. Lineups outside can be long; reserve in advance if you can. There is also an ice-cream store with many kosher flavours available.
Kosher food is also available at the No Frills at Bathurst Street and Centre Street and there are various other kosher restaurants and cafes in the area. The Real Canadian Superstore at Dufferin Road and Steeles Avenue also boasts a large kosher section. There is a kosher section at Walmart located at Centre and Bathurst Street.
The Promenade Shopping Centre, walking distance away from the Sobey’s Plaza, is the neighbourhood meeting spot and hangout for the high school crowd. Preteens sporting shiny lipgloss and tiny purses roam the mall, which has more than 175 stores, including all the major retail chains and a cafe with kosher snacks. There is LCBO with many kosher selections of wine and liquors just outside of Promenade. The Promenade also houses offices including a branch of Jewish Family and Child. Vaughan Mills Shopping Centre, an outlet mall, is a short drive.
Thornhill-Vaughan has its fair share of recreational facilities, with numerous public swimming pools, golf courses and ice arenas.
This part of our community will be served by the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Jewish Community Campus. The community campus is being built on 50 acres (over 200,000 square meters), on Bathurst Street, just north of Rutherford Road. The first element of the complex, the TanenbaumCHAT-Kimel Family Education Centre opened its doors in September 2007. Plans are in place for the Schwartz/Reisman Centre, a 67,000 square foot facility housing a sports and recreation pavilion, early childhood education centre and a creative arts centre, opening in 2012.
For movies, there are two movie theatres close by. The Silvercity Cinema is at Highway 7 and Yonge Street, and shows the most recent blockbuster hits while Rainbow Cinemas, in the Promenade Shopping Centre, shows movies at budget prices.
For other forms of entertainment, residents usually go to local restaurants and coffee shops or head to other parts of the Greater Toronto Area. Most kosher restaurants are open on Saturday night after Shabbat, depending on the time of year.
Several major highways transect Thornhill-Vaughan, providing easy access to the Greater Toronto Area. Highways 7 and 407 provide an efficient east-west corridor across the neighbourhood, and Highways 400 and 427 are close by. Driving downtown takes about 30 minutes in the dead of the night – and double that time during rush hours.
York Region Transit and the VIVA rapid transit system provide the public tranportation in the Thornhill-Vaughan area, and for travel within York Region (north of Steeles Avenue), their service is frequent and reliable. By checking their website for route and schedule information, you can plan your trips to avoid long waits at bus stops.
YRT and Viva offer discounted fares to and from GO Train stations, as well as continuous travel in any direction for a two-hour period with just one fare. York Region Transit accomodates students, offering specific bus routes to public schools and York University during the academic year.
Although Toronto buses operate on some of the main routes in Thornhill-Vaughan, whenever buses pass south of Steeles Avenue ( the border between Vaughan and Toronto), all passengers must pay bus fare again.
Additionally, several bus routes in Thornhill-Vaughan connect to Finch Station which is the stop furthest north on the Toronto subway line. To access the Toronto subway system (part of the Toronto Transit Commission or TTC) passengers transfer fromYork Region Transit (which services Thornhill-Vaughan) and are required to pay two fares.
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