We are hoping for 100% participation in this extraordinary project. Even if you can only pledge $5 a month, we are grateful for every contribution.
Congregation Emanu-El Finance Committee

Congregation Emanu-El 2023-2024 Building Campaign

It is with a deep sense of our responsibility as stewards of our historic building—the oldest synagogue in Canada in continuous use—that we seek to undertake major and urgent renovation work on our Sanctuary.
At a General Meeting of the congregation on October 25th, 2023, our kehillah unanimously approved a plan to spend between $450,000 and $850,000 (dependent on the results of our fundraising efforts) to repair and refurbish the outside and inside of our historic Sanctuary. We have a clear mandate to move forward on this important project.

Each one of us contributes to this community, and we are all invested in the stewardship of this beautiful and sacred space, which we pass from generation to generation. We hope you will join us in investing in the Jewish future of Victoria, so that our families and future generations can gather in this warm and special historic Sanctuary. Help us fulfill the promise of L'dor v'dor.
Click on the headings below to see the answers to the frequently asked questions.


What renovations will be done?
What will the cost be?
What will the effects of all this work be on the congregation?
Are there any less costly alternatives? )
What previous renovations have been done?
How will we raise this money?
How can I make a donation?

An Overview of the Renovation Project


The brick exterior of the Sanctuary, built in 1863-1864, has never properly been repainted and is leaking. Water is entering the building in various places. One of those has already been dealt with on an urgent basis: the Rose Window on the west wall was allowing water to drip down the interior wall beneath it. That historic window, which experienced only minor updates in past renovations, has now been completely and lastingly repaired with the generous assistance of an anonymous donor and the Rabbi's Discretionary Fund. However, two major issues remain. Water is leaking along beams and through the ceiling above the gallery on the south side. Furthermore, the interior wall up to knee level along the Pandora Street side is spalling and peeling, evidence of long-term infiltration of moisture. The source could be (either or both) rising damp from below or water ingress through the north-facing brickwork above, but we cannot spend money on one fix only to discover later on that the root of the problem was the other issue. We therefore retained RJC Engineers to do a study of the Sanctuary's needs. RJC have recommended a thorough repointing and sealing of the brickwork around the entire Sanctuary to render it watertight and solid for decades to come, repairs to the concrete and wood window surrounds on the south side (above the kitchen and foyer), as well as excavation of the strip of land along Pandora Street to ensure correct drainage and waterproofing. The best estimate we have had for the repointing, along with the trenching added to it, will amount to around $350,000. Repairs to exterior woodwork at the roof level, esp. on the south wall where we have a leak, could be as high as $50,000.


Furthermore, we should as quickly as possible update the 40-plus-year-old smoke and fire detection system in the Sanctuary – and because getting access to the existing system and installing a new one will require extensive scaffolding and/or ladder set-up, there is every reason to conduct overdue plaster repairs, painting, and the replacement of accent lighting with up-to-date and energy-efficient lighting elements at the same time. Doing these jobs separately would cost a good deal more than doing them together. We estimate another $100,000 to $250,000, depending on which elements we tackle and in which order, at what level of quality/elaboration. We already have around $8,000 toward the smoke and fire detection systems, which should cover a portion of the equipment and installation. Another donor has pledged a significant portion of the interior redecorating expenses already.

Finally, the existing heating system in the Sanctuary (mainly underfloor electric heat) has one signal shortcoming: it does not produce enough air circulation to prevent the growth of mould/mildew, e.g. in the top left corner of the Blanshard Street wall. An electric heat exchanger drawing fresh air from the blanked-out window to the south of the main doors would allow for the introduction of fresh air that can be heated or cooled and produce a stable, mildew-free climate inside the Sanctuary. A rough estimate would be around $100,000. And both the old bimah and the floor are in need of refinishing, which would cost around $50,000.

Project management and other fees (some already paid, some not yet paid) will amount to around $50,000.

That makes a total of between $450,000 and $850,000, depending on how much money we can raise internally and externally. We plan to do this work in sections as the money becomes available. We do not plan to borrow any money for this work. As a result, it might take more than a year or two to finish everything on our list. Between private and public grants, we have a good handle on around $375,000 - $425,000, and hope to be able to raise more than that.

Most importantly, we have already received assurances of considerable outside funding support, public and private, for these repairs, and trust that the congregation will be able to raise the balance. We hope to raise around $136,000 directly from members of the congregation.

Normally, we would have addressed the exterior first, and then moved on some time later to the interior (it would of course make no sense to repair and repaint the interior before water ingress from outside is stopped). However, the pandemic delayed everything by a number of years, and now we are facing a certain degree of urgency on both the sealing work outside and the safety work inside: it's time to get both done to ensure the immediate and long-term well-being of both the building and its users.

A History of Our Sanctuary's Repairs

  • 1948: A dwindling congregation stuccoed the exterior of the Sanctuary rather than remediating damage/wear to the brickwork, and dropped the ceiling so as to make heating the interior less costly. These were unavoidable money-saving measures that put off the day major repairs would have to be done, especially to the brickwork.
  • 1982: A larger congregation, encouraged by the heritage preservation movement of the day, stripped off the stucco and reversed much of the damage done to exterior trim and detail when the stucco was applied. They also removed the dropped ceiling and renovated the gallery and interior. Outside funding as well as congregants' contributions made it possible. Limited repairs put off the inevitable major repairs to the brickwork.
  • 2003: The social hall was built at great expense, with funds raised largely from the congregation.
  • 2012/13: A mature congregation remediated the roof structure so it would stop pushing the walls outwards, and replaced asphalt shingles with historically correct slate. We renovated parts of the interior of the synagogue, such as the central oculus (round window) in the ceiling, and highlighted various heritage features for our 150th anniversary. The congregation rose to the financial challenges with the help of substantial outside grants. The brickwork was not included in this campaign, which was expensive enough as it was. Various other fairly extensive repairs were carried out over the following decade, mainly to the social hall and foyer.
  • 2019/20: The space for the abandoned mikvah project was converted into the Laurel and Gidi Nahshon Reading Room. It is now used extensively by the Hebrew School and by other groups. Congregants' contributions funded this work to the tune of $180,000.
  • 2023/24: A growing congregation confronts the reality of 160-year-old brickwork that has not really been maintained, as well as many interior systems that are now 40 years old or older. Outside funding will be critical to tackle one of our longest-term challenges (the brickwork), but so will contributions from the congregation.

Quick summary of work needed

  1. Brickwork: The brickwork has not had regular maintenance. Most of the mortar joints are 160 years old and are slowly decaying. Water or moisture is entering the Sanctuary through the brickwork in multiple places. The mortar needs to be ground out and replaced, and then everything needs to be sealed to repel water. The congregation put this work off in 1948 by stuccoing the building, and by doing some patching during later renos (1982, 2013). But this work is now long overdue.
  2. Exterior woodwork/windows: Some of the exterior woodwork and window surrounds need attention to ensure water-tightness.
  3. Fire/smoke alarms: The fire and smoke alarm systems in the Sanctuary are 40+ years old and must be updated urgently.
  4. Scaffolding and interior repairs: Updating the fire and smoke detectors means building scaffolding inside the Sanctuary as there is no other safe way to reach them to remove and replace the units. Mechanical lifts such as cherry-pickers would damage the floor, esp. the in-floor heating. In addition, the floor itself might not withstand their weight. Building scaffolding is so expensive (labour-intensive) that we don't want to do it twice, so this is our opportunity to repair cracks in the plaster, repaint, and replace failed lighting systems.
  5. Woodwork : The bimah woodwork and the floor need refinishing.
  6. HVAC: Our newer in-floor electric heating system does not provide air circulation in the Sanctuary. This has contributed to the formation of black mould high up on the Blanshard Street wall, probably in conjunction with moisture seepage through the brickwork. We need better air circulation and an electric heat exchanger would provide drier air, an additional energy-efficient heat source in winter, and actual cooling in summer, as well as air movement.

Effects on the congregation

  • The exterior work should not interfere substantially with our use of the Sanctuary. However, all the interior work will, and there will be some months when services will have to be held in our social hall. Fortunately, we have that space largely at our disposal.
  • There will be other effects on the congregation: namely, our ability to raise funds for other worthy causes will be somewhat compromised for some time as our efforts and cash flow into this longer-term project.
  • We need to be aware of this and understand that we must take care of our own congregational home, before we are able to extend the full reach of our helping hands to others for a few years. We do not take this lightly.


  • Question: Could we just do the most basic repairs, and see how they turn out?
  • Answer: Yes, we could, just as a shrinking congregation (down to 8 families!) did in 1948. But that just kicks the problem down the road to our kids' generation—and we know how that ends up. Since we are growing now, we should strike while the iron is hot, before inflation makes the work even more expensive.
  • We don't have a good alternative to updating our fire and smoke alarms.
  • We could delay interior plaster and paint work, but it is getting tired, and the longer we wait, the more expensive it will get. Once we erect scaffolding for the smoke/fire alarms, we might as well fix the plaster work and paint the Sanctuary at the same time, saving considerable money (and down-time) vs. re-scaffolding the Sanctuary.
  • If anything, the HVAC system might have to wait for a later campaign.

Other priorities

  • Some members have raised other priorities, such as installing solar panels to offset our power use and contribute to our sustainability.
  • Unfortunately, we cannot place solar panels on our Sanctuary's historic slate roof, which has the largest suitable surfaces for this purpose. The roof areas of the social hall are covered in a playground and HVAC equipment, and are shadowed by the tall buildings directly to our south, southeast, and southwest, substantially reducing that area's suitability for solar panels for most of the day except in high summer.
  • In the opinion of the House Committee, the investment required to install panels in such marginal locations would not be prudent. And in a province in which almost all power is produced by hydro-electric facilities, solar power is neither as financially attractive nor as environmentally urgent as it is elsewhere.

How will we raise this money?

  • We are hoping to raise $136,000 from our membership. We are in the process of planning events; however, events take some money and significant volunteer hours. Donating upfront allows us to secure the best contracts now and frees up our volunteers for other tasks.
  • A private foundation has pledged $275,000 contingent on membership fundraising. The sooner we can raise our funds, the sooner we will receive that donation.
  • We are also applying for local, provincial and federal heritage grants and have obtained the services of a heritage grant expert to assist us with those applications.
  • Finally, recognizing the historic significance of Emanu El, we will work with private fundraisers to help us engage with the Canadian Jewish community across Canada.

How can I make a donation?

  • Donate online, or by contacting the synagogue office. Tax receipts will be issued for all donations.
  • If donating online, please select "Sanctuary Capital Campaign" from the dropdown menu.
  • While upfront donations allow us to secure the best contracts now, we recognize that a monthly pledge may be easier to achieve.
  • With the following commitments:
  • • 18 people donated $180 over 12 months ($2160 in total), we would have $38,880
  • • 50 people donated $90 over 12 months ($1080 in total), we would have $54,000
  • • 50 people donated $54 over 12 months ($648 in total), we would have $32,000
  • • 50 people donated $18 over 12 months ($216 in total), we would have $10,800
  • —we would achieve our membership fundraising goal of $136,080.