Accession consists of approximately 3000 portrait negatives and prints taken by Sylvia Schwartz. The photographs depict members of the Jewish community, jazz musicians, and a small number of non-Jews as well. Within each box, the records are divided up into envelopes, which include anywhere from one to twenty negatives and occasionally a small number of prints.
The negatives were in the possession of Herb Solway, Sylvia Schwartz's nephew until they were donated to the Archives.
Sylvia Schwartz was born in 1914 in Toronto. Her parents were Joseph and Gertrude, who were respectively born in the United States and Austria. She had two older sisters, Fannie and Rosetta (Ruth). Her family moved to Toronto around 1903. Joseph was a furier who eventually set up his own business, J. Schwartz & Co. Ltd., a fur manufacturing company on Madison Avenue. He later became a partner in the Park Plaza Hotel on Avenue Road.
Unlike her siblings, Sylvia was a dwarf, who led a successful life despite her physical limitations. She became a prominent portrait photographer in Toronto and owned a studio on Grenville Road. She began her career during the 1940s, capturing images of families, servicemen during the war as well as brides. She eventually carved out a niche for herself mid-career, specializing in children's portraiture. In addition to her professional activities, she was also recognized for her commitment to Communism. She befriended many famous American artists who were supporters of the cause, such as Paul Robeson, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne and Cab Caloway, travelling across the border frequently to attend meetings and work with her American comrades.
In 1976 she set up a special children's book award to honour her late sister Ruth, who was a respected Toronto bookseller. In 2004, six years after Sylvia's death, her family changed the name of the award to the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children's Book Awards. The awards are administered by the Ontario Arts Council which selects the school and juries. The Ontario Arts Foundation, the Schwartz Foundation and the Canadian Booksellers Association, in turn, are responsible for producing the shortlist of books for the jury.