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Original title:  Portrait of Leo Frankel. [ca. 1920] Original photo by Dame, 330 1/2 Yonge St. Toronto.

Image provided by the Ontario Jewish Archives.

Source: Link

FRANKEL, LEO, bookkeeper, merchant, manufacturer, social reformer, and philanthropist; b. 1 Jan. 1864 in Biblis, Hesse (Federal Republic of Germany), eldest son of Gottschall Fränkel and Mina Mayer; m. 2 July 1890 Helena (Lena) Mayer (1866–1923) in New York City, and they had three sons; m. secondly 9 Dec. 1924 Gerty Wise Abrams in Decatur County, Ga; they had no children; d. 8 Aug. 1933 in Toronto.

In historian Stephen A. Speisman’s seminal work The Jews of Toronto: a history to 1937, there is a collection of images of street scenes, synagogues, schools, and community leaders. Among them is a carefully staged portrait, taken about 1905, of the sons of Leo and Helena Frankel: Roy Hecker, Egmont Lionel, and Carl Milford. Unlike the poorer family in the adjacent photograph, the Frankels are well groomed and wearing elegant attire. They are representative of Toronto’s small Jewish elite in the early 20th century, whose members would play a central role in the city’s emergence as a centre of commerce and industry.

Leo Frankel grew up in a small German town. His father was a businessman who travelled the countryside trading in livestock. At the age of 16 or 17 Leo left in search of better opportunities in New York City, where there were family connections. There he met Helena Mayer, whom he would later marry. In 1881 he moved to Toronto. Why he made this decision is not known, but by then the city had a small Jewish community through which he could make contacts. He was employed as a bookkeeper at the Dominion Iron and Metal Company and was soon joined there by his brother Maurice, who became a clerk. The business operated in a Jewish neighbourhood, at the corner of Wellington and York streets, and it was on this site in 1886 that Leo and Maurice opened Frankel Brothers, a wholesale dealership in scrap metal and cotton waste. Three years later they relocated to George Street. The seven other Frankel siblings would gradually immigrate, but the matriarch, Mina, would not arrive until after her husband’s death in 1918. Three of the brothers set up and ran the Montreal branch of the enterprise. By 1907 further growth in Toronto necessitated a move to Eastern Avenue, in an industrial area of the city. Over time the Frankels would purchase small metal and steel fabricators and expand into smelting and wrecking services. They established agencies in New York City and in Birmingham and Liverpool, England. In June 1923 Frankel Brothers was incorporated with a capital of $1 million.

Leo Frankel had risen quickly in stature and influence within the Jewish community, whose prominent members included the family of Lewis Samuel*. Lewis’s son Sigmund* was Frankel’s compatriot and competitor in the steel industry. Leo and Lena enrolled their children in the elite private school Upper Canada College, an Anglican institution. Another mark of social acceleration was their grand home on Jarvis Street, purchased in 1908. The Romanesque Revival mansion had been built in 1891 for George Horace Gooderham*, who worked at the distillery founded by his grandfather William Gooderham*.

Frankel was named president of the household-appliance manufacturer National Electric Heating Company Limited and sat on the Toronto Board of Trade. For years he also focused attention on social and cultural affairs, which included heading the Jewish Social and Literary Union. In 1925 he helped establish the Oakdale Golf and Country Club, and he had been a member of the Primrose Club since its beginnings in 1907 as the Cosmopolitan Club. Both institutions evolved because Jews were denied membership in tony Anglo-Saxon establishments.

Leo Frankel’s most notable contribution to Jewish life in Toronto was as president of the Toronto Hebrew Congregation (Holy Blossom) from 1908 to 1927, the longest tenure in its history. Formed in 1856 as the Toronto Hebrew Congregation (Sons of Israel) [see Lewis Samuel], its synagogue had been on Richmond Street since 1876. President Alfred David Benjamin* led the congregation’s move to a grand, Moorish-style structure on Bond Street in 1897, by which time the Orthodox orientation was being eroded by those who belonged to the more liberal Reform branch of Judaism [see Elias Friedlander*]. The trend accelerated during the term of Rabbi Solomon Jacobs*, from 1901 to 1920. The rabbi and the president negotiated a delicate balance between the two groups. Frankel’s board of trustees included members of prominent families and the eminent scholar Edmund Scheuer*, who was the synagogue’s superintendent of education. Under Frankel the board oversaw the congregation’s growth, refinanced the building, added a separate Sabbath school, and made repairs to the cemetery. Most significantly, in 1920 Frankel led the synagogue’s transition from Orthodox to Reform. At the celebration of Holy Blossom’s 70th anniversary in 1926, he was lauded for his dedication and quiet leadership.

During the First World War Frankel had played a key role in the success of the Toronto and York County Patriotic Fund Association, which was established in 1914 under its president, Sir William Mulock*, and became affiliated with the Canadian Patriotic Fund. Frankel was a founding member of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of Toronto, incorporated in 1917 to unite several charities. His wife also volunteered for various initiatives, serving as president of the synagogue’s religious school and engaging in the work of the Red Cross and the Toronto section of the National Council of Jewish Women. She died in 1923 at age 56. The following year Frankel married Gerty Wise Abrams. She would be left a widow nine years later when Frankel suffered a stroke after a lengthy illness.

Frankel’s sons, who had become involved in the business after they completed their education, would change its name to Frankel Steel Limited and set up Frankel Steel Construction. In 1961 they sold the 75-year-old operation to a Toronto-based interest. More than a decade later it was purchased by another steel-manufacturing family, whose Jewish ancestors had settled in London, Ont., in the late 19th century and, like the Frankels, had started by dealing in scrap metal.

Leo Frankel’s life spanned the period in which Toronto evolved into a major manufacturing and commercial centre and the Jewish population grew from about 500 to 47,000, the city’s largest ethnocultural minority. While Frankel did not achieve the public stature of industrialist and benefactor Sigmund Samuel and some of his other contemporaries, he nonetheless made significant contributions to Toronto’s economic advancement and was instrumental in the creation of the city’s Jewish religious and philanthropic organizations. Five years after his death, when the new Holy Blossom Temple was opened on Bathurst Street, he was remembered in the souvenir booklet as “one of the most progressive and active leaders, not only of Holy Blossom Congregation, but in all communal affairs, Jewish and non-Jewish, and the high standing of this congregation amongst all classes of Toronto’s population is largely due to his labor and devotion on its behalf.”

Franklin Bialystok

The author wishes to thank Leo Frankel’s granddaughter Nancy Jean Draper and her daughter Paula Jean Draper for sharing family documents and answering questions. The Ont. Jewish Arch. (Toronto), 104 (Frankel and Draper family fonds) has family records and photographs, including images of the G. H. Gooderham house on Jarvis Street, Toronto, where the Frankels lived.

AO, RG 80-8-0-1405, no.005406. Hessisches Landesamt für geschichtliche Landeskunde, “Jewish gravesites,” grave no.1800, Fränkel, Gottschall (1918) – Alsbach: www.lagis-hessen.de/en/subjects/index/sn/juf (consulted 4 Jan. 2018). Holy Blossom Temple (Toronto), Holy Blossom Congregation, minutes of the board of trustees, 1908–28. Canadian Jewish Rev. (Toronto), 23 Feb. 1923. Globe, 2 June 1923, 9 Aug. 1933. Globe and Mail, 6 March 1961, 16 Oct. 1971, 14 Sept. 1974. Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph (Quebec), 17 March 1961. Dedication souvenir to commemorate the opening of the new Holy Blossom Temple, Bathurst Street at Ava Road, Toronto ([Toronto, 1938]). Bill Gladstone, A history of the Jewish community of London Ontario: from the 1850s to the present day (Toronto, 2011). The Jew in Canada: a complete record of Canadian Jewry from the days of the French régime to the present time, comp. A. D. Hart (Toronto and Montreal, 1926). Benjamin Kayfetz and S. A. Speisman, Only yesterday: collected pieces on the Jews of Toronto (Toronto, 2013). “The rise of the Toronto Jewish community, the reminiscences of S. M. Shapiro,” Polyphony (Toronto), 6 (1984), no.1: 59–64. Louis Rosenberg, A study of the changes in the geographic distribution of the Jewish population in the metropolitan area of Toronto, 1851–1951 (Montreal, 1954). S. E. Rosenberg, The Jewish community in Canada (2v., Toronto and Montreal, 1970–71), 1. S. M. Shapiro, The rise of the Toronto Jewish community (Toronto, 2010). S. A. Speisman, The Jews of Toronto: a history to 1937 (Toronto, 1979). G. [J. J.] Tulchinsky, Canada’s Jews: a people’s journey (Toronto, 2008); Taking root: the origins of the Canadian Jewish community (Toronto, 1992).

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Cite This Article

Franklin Bialystok, “FRANKEL, LEO,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 18, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/frankel_leo_16E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/frankel_leo_16E.html
Author of Article:   Franklin Bialystok
Title of Article:   FRANKEL, LEO
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2024
Year of revision:   2024
Access Date:   June 18, 2024