By GERRY POSNER Winnipeg has turned out some remarkable people, particularly in the arts, and nowhere is that statement more accurate than in the case of Judith Weisz Woodsworth. This woman, a product of Winnipeg’s famous north end, just recently was the recipient of the 2022 Governor General’s Literary Award for French to English translation for her work on the book “History of The Jews in Quebec.” This was a major achievement and in so many ways, reaching this status boggles the mind.
Judith’s mother’s family is from Budapest while her father’s family comes from eastern Hungary, close to the area where prominent Hasidim reigned. The Weisz side of the family produced 11 children and a couple of them, including Judith’s uncle, Eugene Weis, later sponsored Judith’s family’s immigration to Canada.
Baby Judith arrived in Canada with her family in 1949. She grew up at first on Manitoba Avenue near Salter. Does it get more north end than that? She initially attended the Sholem Aleichem kindergarten and then a public school nearby. Her memories are rich with her time spent at the then Tiferes Israel Synagogue.
The Weisz family eventually made their way to Garden City where Judith graduated from Garden City Collegiate. At that school, Judith was inspired by the principal, Robert ( Bobby) Bend, to broaden her horizon and apply to McGill University. And with that push, off she went at age 17. Although her parents were devastated to see her leave, they were very supportive, as were her close friends, former Winnipeggers, Carol Novak (now Sevitt) and Nelson Wiseman, who were on hand to say goodbye at the CNR train station.
Judith attributes her growing up in the multilingual and multicultural north end of Winnipeg as being a significant influence in her life and the direction she ended up taking. Born in Paris, she explains she also had a romanticized view of France, where her parents had spent a few years prior to coming to Canada.
Thus, moving to Montreal seemed both exciting and natural. At McGill, she enrolled in literature and philosophy, soon specializing in French literature. She graduated with a BA and then spent a year studying in France – which led to further studies in foreign languages and cultures. She became a translator by chance, taking on contracts when she was a graduate student. It was not long before she was hired by the Canadian government to work as a translator for National Defence headquarters in Ottawa.
With a PhD in hand, combined with her track record with the government, Judith was hired to teach translation at Montreal’s Concordia University. It was there that JWW had a long and extensive career teaching, writing and then serving in a variety of administrative positions. Her administrative duties landed her a job as a Vice -President at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax. While in Halifax, Judith was asked to be on the board of Pier 21 and, during her tenure on that board, she was part of the official opening of the immigration museum in June, 1999, precisely 50 years after her very own family first set foot in Canada in Halifax. My best guess is that there are few people who can make that claim.
After her stint in Nova Scotia, Judith worked for six years as president of Laurentian University in Sudbury, in Northern Ontario. Following that gig came an even bigger assignment, as she was invited to become the president of Concordia University in Montreal. That was quite a journey from her modest beginnings and departure from the Winnipeg train station. And then, to round out her life work, she returned to her position as a professor in the French department at Concordia where she spent her final 10 years until retirement in May,2022. Now, that’s a career!
In the course of her work, JWW travelled to nearly 50 countries and she developed friendships around the world in diverse circles. She was married to the late Patrick Woodsworth and for those who wonder, yes, Patrick was the grand-nephew of the famous J.S. Woodsworth. Judith is now married to another former Winnipegger, Lindsay Crysler, originally from Saskatchewan, who came to Winnipeg to work as a journalist for the Winnipeg Tribune.
But surely the crowning moment for Judith Weisz Woodsworth might well have been her monumental effort to translate a book so closely connected to her heritage, the 400-year-old story of the Jews in Quebec. This was a 500-page book and she worked at it feverishly for several hours each day for around a year. The joy in the completion of that work was huge, but the cherry on the sundae was being a recipient of the very prestigious Governor General Literary Award.
These awards celebrate literature and inspire the public to read books by Canadian creators. I quote the comment made by the peer assessment committee. “ Her flawless translation […] replicates the engaging style of the original with enthusiasm and rigor. Weisz Woodsworth fully captures the scholarly but compelling prose of the essential overview. Her translation of the extensive documentation is equally masterful.” All this, from a girl whose family arrived here with very little and who came from the depths of Winnipeg’s north end, speaks volumes about Judith Weisz Woodsworth and that sentence needs no translation.