Jacob Diamond was born Ya’acov Tabarisky was born near Vilnius, Lithuania in 1859. He spent a few years in England working and learning English before arriving in Canada in 1884. Jacob kept kosher, so he initially stayed in Jewish homes while working as a peddler in southern Ontario. In one particular instance, he stayed with a Jewish family who had working for them an Irish nanny, named Maria Stoodley. Jacob and Maria fell in love and travelled to Winnipeg, where Maria converted to Judaism and took the name of Rachel before the couple married.
Jacob Diamond and his wife, Rachel, were the first Jewish family to settle permanently in Calgary. The evolution and growth of Calgary’s Jewish community centred on the Diamond family’s first home. Due to their high socioeconomic status, the Diamond family house in central Calgary served as the city’s first synagogue, community centre and even the Chevra Kadisha. As the family’s wealth increased due to the success of J. Diamond, Wholesale Wines, Liquors, and Cigars, they were able to further support the community and establish more Jewish institutions to enhance community life within the city.
Jacob Diamond was much more than Calgary’s first Jewish settler. He became the Jewish community’s founding father and the young city’s leading citizen. Diamond led religious services in his family home. When a member of Calgary’s Jewish community, an infant named Goldie Bell, passed away in 1904, there was no Jewish cemetery in the city. Jacob played a leading role in buying a portion of land adjacent to Union Cemetery, which became the city’s first Jewish burial ground, and the founding of the Chevra Kadisha. In 1909, he played a major role in purchasing land and establishing the original House of Jacob Congregation.
By the end of the first decade of the 1900s, the Jewish community in Calgary had grown to 700 people. Years of hard work had begun to pay off for Diamond professionally as well as personally. Prior to World War I, the family had real estate holdings around the city, a second house in Banff, and a large tract of land on the Elbow River. His comfortable financial position allowed him to go into semi-retirement, granting Diamond more time for community work. He continued to serve as the House of Jacob’s president well into the 1920s. Diamond additionally oversaw the kosher meat slaughter business and was a supporter of the regional Talmud Torah. Outside the Jewish community, he was likewise involved with the Odd Fellows and the Southern Alberta Pioneers’ and Old Timers’ Association.
Jacob Diamond’s reputation as a key individual in the creation and successful function of the Calgary Jewish community, and establishing a Jewish presence in the prairie provinces is maintained throughout the city’s history. Diamond and his family are recognized as important historical figures whose contributions have made an immeasurable impact to both the Calgary community and Canada at large.