As founding curator of the Saint John Jewish Historical Museum, Marcia Koven inspired a number of Jewish women to create museums that commemorate the history of Jewish life in Canada’s Maritime Provinces. Alongside her curatorial work, which extended beyond the museum she founded, Koven held numerous leadership roles with organizations that promote community and well-being among Jewish Canadians. Koven received numerous awards for her community advocacy and pioneering museum work.
Born on December 26, 1926, in Saint John, Marcia Koven was 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 Dorbian, 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 at the Saint John campus of the University of New Brunswick (B.A., 1982). She took a number of museology courses through the Association Museums New Brunswick. From an early age she took an active part in the community life of her city.
Marcia Koven was one of a small number of Jewish women in Canada’s Maritime Provinces who have been involved in the creation of museums that recall aspects of the region’s past. Many native sons and daughters of that less-than-prosperous area of Canada 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 1986 and 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.
Over the years, Koven served as president of the synagogue sisterhood, president of the Saint John chapter and member of the National Hadassah Executive, a New Brunswick representative on the regional Atlantic Jewish Council, head of the women’s Chevra Kadisha in Saint John, curator of the museum and in a variety of capacities with other organizations, such as the local Shomer (Seniors) Club and the Holocaust Committee of the Atlantic Jewish Council. Her efforts on behalf of the community were recognized in a number of awards: most particularly, the Caring Canadian Award from the Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick (1999) and the Queen's Jubilee Medal (2012), but also several awards from Hadassah-WIZO, Canadian Young Judaea, and Atlantic Jewish Council.
Koven married (Joseph) Jerry Koven (b. New York City, 1919. d. Saint John, 2010), a businessman, who came to Saint John in 1930 with his parents, following a brother who had settled there earlier. They had four children: Diane (b. 1950), a certified financial planner; Charlotte (b. 1953), a registered psychotherapist and former principal of Temple Sinai Hebrew School in Toronto; Andrew (b. 1958), a lawyer; and Sherry Koven Sheffman (b. 1962),director of strategic communications at BC Pension Corporation.. The couple had eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Koven’s three siblings were Lewis H. Freedman (1924-2018), a physician; Bernard Freedman (1930–2005), an insurance executive; and Edythe Freedman Steinberg (b. 1938), a registered nurse and cosmetic consultant.
Marcia Koven passed away in Ottawa on March 4, 2022, at the age of 95.
“Chapter 11 - Preserving the Past.” Past to Present: Generations of Jewish Life in Saint John. Accessed March 12, 2022. https://www.communitystories.ca/v2/150-years-jewish-history-stjohn_150-….
Jacobson, Joel. “Obituary: Marcia Koven, Founder of the Saint John Jewish Historical Museum, Preserved the Community’s Stories.” The Canadian Jewish News, March 8, 2022. https://thecjn.ca/lives/obituary-marcia-koven-founder-of-the-saint-john….
Koven, Marcia. Weaving the Past into the Present: A Glimpse into the 130 Year History of Saint John Jewish Community. St. John, New Brunswick: St. John Jewish Historical Museum, 1989.
“Marcia Koven Canada.” CIJA - The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, October 27, 2016. https://www.cija.ca/showcase-marcia-koven/.