The Museum of Jewish Montreal presents pop-up exhibit Vêtements Parkley : 1937 / Parkley Clothes: 1937 at Nuit blanche à Montréal in collaboration with Urban Shtetl and the Wandering Chew.
What’s behind these doors? It started with a scavenging mission to map the location of Norman Massey.
Norman Massey and his first wife Sema Stutman, ca. 1930s. Courtesy of Marilyn Vasilkioti and the Museum of Jewish Montreal.
Norman Massey was among tens of thousands of Jews who immigrated to Montreal between 1900 and 1920, fleeing antisemitism, political upheaval and economic hardship in Eastern Europe. Many of these immigrants found work in the city’s thriving garment (or shmata) trade and by 1931, approximately one-third of Montreal’s Jewish workers were employed in this field, comprising around 35% of the industry’s workers. Pocket-maker, writer and self-described “political dynamite in the needle trades,” Massey is one of dozens of interviewees featured in Seemah C. Berson’s I Have and Story to Tell You (WLU Press 2010), a book about Eastern European Jewish immigrants living in Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg in the early twentieth century. Berson’s book is one of the inspirations behind the Museum of Jewish Montreal’s recently launched digital walking tour Work Upon Arrival. We were conducting detective work to find relevant city addresses to geo-locate Massey’s story.
But Massey’s information was particularly hard to track down. We caught a hint of why this was the case from another interviewee – Ena Ship:
"You know that up until then I was the manager of the Vochenblatt and Outlook and a lot of people changed their names. First of all, the Red Squad used to come to homes and make a mess of things and take away books and take away belongings. And people couldn’t get into the United States. So people used to change their names. They were known as So-and-so in the [progressive] movement. Up until now, I still have people that have their old names in my little book with the names of the readers. We had built a beautiful centre in Montreal, a cultural centre. A lot of people donated money, big sums of money, and this centre was padlocked! (Berson 2010: 210-211).”
With a little help from our friends at the Jewish Public Library Archives and the Jewish Genealogical Society, we discovered that Norman Massey was actually a nom de plume and we were able to find Massey’s birth name – Noach Putterman. By doing an alphabetical search in Lovell’s address directory, we found a “Nathan Putterman” listed with a notation next to his name “[machine] opr[erator] Parkley Clothes”. So where was Parkley Clothes? It wasn’t listed in the alphabetical directory, but on a hunch, I scanned all the businesses listed in the street directory, the big factories of the garment trade located along Ste-Catherine near Bleury, and along the Main. Amazingly, there was Parkley Clothes, on the fourth floor of the Belgo Building!
Today the Belgo Building is an epicentre of Montreal’s art scene with five floors of galleries, dance studios, and retail stores on the street level. In 1937 however, it was almost floor-to-ceiling garment-making workshops. These listings give you a sense: (note the Freedman Company on the fifth floor!)
Photo from Lovell’s Directory
Because of all the galleries, the Belgo is one of the locations I most closely associate with my favourite night of the year, Nuit blanche à Montréal. Nuit blanche is a night of magic and discovery, an all-night art festival that highlights Montreal’s incredible galleries, museums, libraries, artists, and culture. This quixotic association with the massive building at 372 Ste-Catherine O. was in the back of my mind when Zev and I went on a scouting mission to check out what the former location of Parkley Clothes looked like today. After chatting with the building manager, and the folks at Centre d’exposition Circa, we determined that Parkley Clothes was likely located in the space of that gallery, room 442/444, though the inside wall had been renovated decades ago.
Such was born the idea for the Museum of Jewish Montreal’s first pop-up exhibit - Vêtements Parkley : 1937 / Parkley Clothes: 1937.
Our exhibit featured at the Nuit blanche à Montréal press conference, courtesy of the Museum of Jewish Montreal. Photo of garment workers courtesy of Canadian Jewish Congress Charities Committee National Archives.
This exhibit brings to life the history of Eastern European Jewish immigrant, garment workers, and union activists in the 1930s. The event takes place on Saturday March 1st at Galerie POPOP in room 442 of the Belgo Building, 372 Ste-Catherine O. from 7pm until 2am. We’ll be joined by our friends Urban Shtetl, a collective of young adults dedicated to the preservation of Yiddish through song, and The Wandering Chew, who educate about the diversity of Jewish food through pop-up dinners. Come join a live tailor performance, learn some Yiddish labour songs, and sample Jewish street food. Our team is hard at work preparing a magical, immersive experience for our visitors. We hope you’ll join us to discover the Belgo’s Jewish past!
Parkley Clothes: 1937 is curated by Stephanie Tara Schwartz (Research Director of the Museum of Jewish Montreal) and Jessica Pearson (Assistant Curator) in collaboration with Galerie POPOP, Urban Shtetl, and The Wandering Chew. For more information about the Museum of Jewish Montreal please contact email@example.com.