Max Zev Blankstein was born in 1873 in Odessa, Russia. He was an only child, and son of Mayer "Zisy" (Kritchmar) Blankstein, a stonemason, and Vichna "Vera" (Dorfman) Blankstein. Max came of age during a dangerous time for Jewish people in the Russian empire, facing violence from pogroms, beginning in 1881.
In 1904 war erupted between the Russian and Japanese empires in Russia's far east territories. Russian law discriminated against its Jewish citizens, who were disproportionately conscripted for military service while being excluded from educational institutions. Wishing to avoid military service, Max came to Canada with his wife, Esther (Goldin) Blankstein, (whom he married in 1902), and his brothers-in-law, who also sought to avoid conscription. Max came to Canada via the Hamburg-America line, on the SS Assyria, arriving from Hamburg in Halifax on June 14th, 1904. The ship's manifest listed Max as an Austrian national, originating from Odessa, and employed as a tailor. The source of Max's credentials as an architect in Russia remain unknown. Considering how few jews were allowed to attend higher education in Russia at the time, it's possible that his father's profession created a rare opportunity for Max. Esther arrived later with their children, Isaac Wolfe and Vera "Verna", as well as Esther's younger sister, Laika "Lena" Goldin and their mother, Furma (Zeabin) Goldin. They reached Quebec City July 28, 1905, traveling from Liverpool on the SS Canada. Esther would die July 2, 1906 at age 25. Max would marry her sister, Laika, in 1907.
Max established an architectural practice in Winnipeg at a time of growth, particularly within the city's Jewish community. The closeness of this community gave Max privileged access to a regular clientele. It's no wonder that his buildings are densely located within the area known as New Jerusalem, which sat in Ward 5 north of the Canadian Pacific line, south of Flora Avenue, and west of Main Street. The area was home to the majority of Winnipeg's Jewish people living in the North End.
Max would also establish close ties with up and coming members of the business community. As a product of these relationships, his works would adorn the streets of Winnipeg's important business, commercial, and industrial districts, including Main Street, Selkirk Avenue, and Jarvis Avenue. These connections would prove to be even more valuable than credentials, as Max's first project came in 1906, roughly four years before he was accredited to practice architecture in Manitoba. He would establish his closest ties with the housing and apartment magnates Rueben Cohen and Abraham Cohen, as well as Jacob "Jake" Miles (later partnered with Nathan Rothstein) of Allied Amusement/Allied Theatres, one of the city's leading theatre developers. It was on these names that Max Blankstein would stake his career, designing the buildings that would launch a Blankstein design-dynasty.
Max Blankstein would have five more children with Laika: Cecil, Eva, Evelyn, Fred (Ingy) and Morley. Evelyn, would become an architect in 1935, first working with her brother, Cecil, then Hobbs Glass. Evelyn was also amongst the first female architects to practice in Manitoba. Wolfe would work as a general contractor with Ladco. Morley would also graduate from architecture, founding the notable Winnipeg firm Blankstein Coop Gillmor Hanna. Perhaps the most notable of Max's children to become an architect was Cecil, who helped to found the firm Green Blankstein Russell (GBR), which, amongst other projects, designed Winnipeg City Hall, Polo Park Shopping Centre, and Shaarey Zedek Synagogue. Younger generations of Blanksteins continue to practice architecture and design.
Max Blankstein was on the cutting edge of architecture in Winnipeg, exploring the Edwardian, arts and crafts, and art deco styles. The imagination and ornateness of his designs testify to Winnipeg's willingness to take risks, something that fuelled rapid growth in Blankstein's era. He was a member of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, and is said to be the first registered Jewish architect in western Canada. He would pass away December 31, 1931, seven days after the opening of his last project, the Uptown Theatre.