Goldman Herzl History

The Centre's History

From "Our History of Family Medicine, 1912-1994"

By Michael Regenstreif

The Centre's history dates back more than two decades before the actual Jewish General Hospital opened its doors in 1934, when the original "Herzl Hospital and Dispensary" settled in a small house in the then-Jewish immigrant ghetto located near the centre of the island of Montreal. The Herzl dispensary officially opened its doors on June 2, 1912. It was decided to name the dispensary in honour of Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism. Initially, the Herzl Dispensary provided rudimentary medical care to a community of limited means. Following its genesis in the years leading to the First World War, doctors at the Herzl Dispensary helped to spearhead the establishment of the Jewish General Hospital. The Herzl Dispensary was also instrumental in establishing the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of Montreal, the forerunner of today's Federation CJA, the umbrella organisation of Montreal's Jewish Community. In fact, the Federation's first home was at the Herzl Dispensary.

As the needs of its community changed, the Herzl Dispensary evolved into the "Herzl Health Centre". Later, in further recognition of its community's growing needs, the Herzl Health Centre merged with the, by now well established, Jewish General Hospital's own family practice clinic to create the Herzl Family Practice Centre of the Department of Family Medicine. Meanwhile, following its founding as a community-based hospital, the Jewish General Hospital developed as the focal point for general health care of - but certainly not restricted to - Montreal's Jewish community.

Today's Herzl Family Practice Centre provides a comprehensive range of medical and social services to a clientele that cuts across all socio-economic levels and ethnic groups. In addition, today's facilities are part of the resources of a modern teaching hospital connected to McGill University's  Faculty of Medicine and a highly regarded training facility for doctors of family medicine affiliated with McGill's  Department of Family Medicine. The permanent staff of family physicians at the HFPC is on the faculty at McGill and is responsible for supervising undergraduate medical students and fully qualified graduate resident physicians over a two-year period. The supervisors are full-time and part-time practising physicians who also are certified by the  College of Family Physicians of Canada , from where the Centre proudly receives its full accreditation every 2-5 years.

Documentary on one of Canada's first free medical clinics


Filmmaker Ezra Soiferman spends a year at the Goldman Herzl Family Practice Centre, part of the Jewish General Hospital (JGH), a member institution of the Integrated Health and Social Services University Network for West-Central Montreal (West-Central Montreal Health), documenting the institution's mosaic of patients, staff and stories throughout its milestone 100th anniversary year.

Dockside to Bedside: 100 Years of Herzl (43 mins) traces the Centre’s evolution from makeshift dockside dispensary serving newly arrived Jewish immigrants and Montreal’s poor, into part of the bedrock of Canada's medical landscape, becoming a recognized leader in preventative medicine and compassionate care under the guidance of its charismatic Director and JGH Chief of Family Medicine, Dr. Michael Malus.

"Ezra got it”, says Dr. Malus. “Our definition of health is more than the absence of disease. It is about enabling people to be who they really are. Our staff partners, with our patients, make it work. It is infectious."

“Working closely with Dr. Malus and his team as they cared for Montrealers and Quebecers of all ages and ethnicities was a really eye-opening experience”, says Director Mr. Soiferman. “This is a film I'm eager to share with viewers looking to learn about the roots of preventive medicine in Canada. Compassionate medicine, too."

“I've directed films about greasy-spoon chefs, medical cannabis patients, Christmas tree sellers, working dogs, pickle makers and fishermen,” Mr. Soiferman adds. “Nothing could have prepared me for a film about a busy medical clinic and all it entails. What a privilege it was to be able to spend a year following the staff and patients of such a humbling and historic institution as Herzl.”

The film, produced by Christos Sourligas and Alexandra Yanofsky, premiered on CityTV in English (narrated by former CBC anchor Dennis Trudeau) and on Air Canada flights in French (narrated by filmmaker Denys Arcand) to glowing reviews.

“I am delighted that the Herzl documentary can now be seen online, since it will inform a wider audience of the Centre’s enormous contribution to family medicine in Montreal,” says Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, President and CEO of West-Central Montreal Health. “The Herzl Dispensary (as it was known at the turn of the 20th century) was instrumental in introducing the approach of treating the whole patient rather than just the symptoms, and viewing the patient as an individual rather than as a mere case. These are values that we continue to champion today throughout our healthcare network, as we strive to keep improving the quality of care and the user experience.”

About the film's director, Ezra Soiferman

Documentary filmmaker Ezra Soiferman shoots and directs stories about fascinating people and places that warm hearts, uplift spirits, and provoke thought and laughter. Among these are Grass Fed - about comedian Mike Paterson's attempt to heal his sciatica with edible medical cannabis; Man of Grease - from legendary Montreal greasy spoon Cosmos to the island of Crete, following Tony Koulakis, breakfast chef, on his first holiday home in over 30 years; Posthumous Pickle Party - a quest to find the secret recipe for the late Simcha Leibovich’s homemade pickles, upon the closing of his small but important Montreal landmark, Simcha’s Grocery; Tree Weeks - shadowing the quirky and dedicated Québécois Christmas tree vendors who migrate each year to Manhattan to sell their wares; and Cod Help Us - capturing the plight of spirited cod fisherman in the Gulf of St. Lawrence as their livelihood for generations slips away.

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