Marcia Koven is one of a small number of Jewish women in Canada’s Maritime Provinces who have been involved in the creation of museums which recall aspects of the region’s past. Many native sons and daughters of that less than prosperous area of Canada have moved away in the post-World War II era, sparking a desire among those who remained to commemorate earlier periods of growth and prosperity. In Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, the development of the Miners’ Museum was spearheaded by Nina Cohen, and in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Pier 21, a museum commemorating the arrival in that port of entry of more than a million immigrants over the years, was opened in 1999 thanks largely to the efforts of Ruth Goldbloom. The first of these museums was the Saint John [New Brunswick] Jewish Historical Museum, the only museum in Atlantic Canada dedicated specifically to Jews. It opened in 1987 and is located in the former Jewish Community Center. Marcia Koven was the spirit behind the creation of the museum, its founding curator, and the inspiration behind the museum projects that followed elsewhere in Atlantic Canada.
Born in 1926 in Saint John, Koven is the daughter of Rose Selick Freedman (b. 1905 in Hillsborough, New Brunswick, d. 1993, Saint John), a homemaker and a community volunteer, and John J. Freedman (b. 1900 in Dobrian, Russian Lithuania, d. 1964, Saint John), a scrap metal dealer. Koven’s father was brought to Canada by his parents in 1905, and both he and her mother were active in the Jewish and general communities. Koven became a registered nurse in 1948 and later studied sociology and museology at the Saint John campus of the University of New Brunswick (B.A., 1982). From an early age she took an active part in the community life of her city.
Over the years, Koven served as president of the synagogue sisterhood, president of the Saint John chapter and member of the National Executive of Hadassah-WIZO, a New Brunswick representative on the regional Atlantic Jewish Council, head of the women’s Hevra Kadisha in Saint John, curator of the museum and in a variety of capacities with other organizations, such as the local Shomar Seniors Club and the Holocaust Committee of the Atlantic Jewish Council. Her efforts on behalf of the community have been recognized in a number of awards: most particularly, the Caring Canadian Award from the Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick (1999), but also several awards from Hadassah-WIZO and Canadian Young Judaea.
Koven married (Joseph) Jerry Koven (b. New York City, 1919), a businessman, who came to Saint John in 1930 with his parents, following a brother who had settled there earlier. They have four children: Diane (b. 1950), a certified financial planner; Charlotte (b. 1953), the principal of Temple Sinai Hebrew School in Toronto; Andrew (b. 1958), a lawyer; and Sherry Koven Sheffman (b. 1962), the manager of corporate communications for British Columbia Ferries. Koven’s three siblings are Lewis H. Freedman (b. 1924), a physician; Bernard Freedman (1930–2005), an insurance executive; and Edythe Freedman Steinberg (b. 1938), a registered nurse and cosmetic consultant.