The first Jews immigrated to Canada in the 1750's. They too had to compromise their Jewish identity in order to gain entrance into the New World. Canada was under rule of the French colonizers. So Jews, and in fact all non-Catholics, were prohibited from settling. Some Jews side-stepped these restrictions by converting to Catholicism.
The Gradis family of New France was among the most notable of early Jewish settlers. Historians believe that this Jewish family played a pivotal role in sustaining the colony before it was conquered by the British. The Gradis family had a fleet of ships that went back and forth to France, providing food, supplies and munitions that kept the settlers armed and fed during their fight to defend the colony.
But Jewish political allegiances were as varied as anyone else's. While the Gradis family supported the French, a Jewish man by the name of Alexander Shomberg was a commander in the invading British navy. Of course, Schomberg's Jewishness would have been kept secret - only Christians were allowed to serve in the British navy. Schomberg's frigate, Diana, took part in the attack on Quebec that led the battle on the Plains of Abraham, where the French colony fell to British control.
The first significant wave of Jewish immigrants to make Canada their home arrived with General Jeffery Amherst in 1760. Most of these Jewish settlers emigrated from the United States and settled in urban centres, the majority in Montreal. The 1831 census recorded 197 Jewish residents in Upper and Lower Canada. By 1851 the number had increased to 451. Most were middle class and well educated; they were involved in trade and contributed to the economic growth of the country.
From 1850 to 1900 Jewish immigrants came mostly from Europe. During this period approximately 15,000 Jewish immigrants arrived in Canada. The Shumiatcher family, when they came to Canada in 1909, were part of a wave of 120,000 Jews that came from Eastern Europe between 1900 and 1920. Those who came between 1920 and 1940 numbered 60,000 and from WWII to the 1980's, 135,000. The origin of Jewish immigrants at this time was predominantly the United States, North Africa and the Middle East.
According to 1991 Census, the Canadian Jewish population today is estimated at 356,000. The largest Jewish populations exist in Toronto, with 162,000, Montreal with 98,000, Vancouver, with 25,000. Jewish immigration to Canada continues: 30,000 Jews entered Canada from 1981 to 1991.
Between 1850 and 1914 Jewish immigrants to Canada faced few difficulties in gaining admission. But restrictions tightened after World War I and throughout the Depression years, at the very time when upheavals in Europe made Jews more desperate than ever to leave, especially from Russia, Poland, Austria-Hungary, Romania and the Baltic states. Virulent anti-Semitism drove many Jews from their homeland, while thousands who stayed were massacred or victimized by disease and starvation.
Even with the rise of Hitler and the Nazi regime in the mid 1930's, refuge for Jewish immigrants was shamefully hard to find. Traditional countries of immigration, Canada among them, imposed restrictions against Jewish immigrants, leaving them at the mercy of their homeland. Condemned Jews in Auschwitz had a poignant vision of what Canada represented. They named one of the barracks "Canada." It was the place where food, clothes and confiscated belongings such as jewellery were stored--it was regarded as a place of luxury and salvation. But it was completely sealed off, as was Canada in the years between 1933 and 1945.
In 1939, Canadian Jews could only watch with helplessness and horror as the St. Louis, a ship full of more than 900 Jewish refugees, sailed from port to port off the coasts of the United States and Latin America, searching for a place to land its human cargo. Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King responded to urgent pleas for refuge by saying that it was not a Canadian problem. And with that, the Jews of the St. Louis headed back to Europe, many of them to their death. During the war period, between 1939 and 1945, Canada accepted a total of only 500 refugees.
Jews already in Canada were the brunt of anti-Semitism and nativism during the Second World War. Discrimination took many forms: Canadian Jews were restricted from admissions to universities and professional schools. More subtle forms of prejudice included a xenophobic fear of the growing number of Jews in Canada and a whispering, or at times blatant, campaign impugning their character.
These subtle forms of hatred have subsided over the last forty years. Human rights legislation, which was first introduced in Canada in the late 1940’s, has helped eliminate some forms of racism. The introduction of the federal policy of multiculturalism in 1971 has brought to public attention the necessity and legitimacy of cultural pluralism and the need for tolerance within the Canadian mosaic.
LEGACY: RELIGION, SOCIETY AND CULTURE
Despite the obstacles some Jewish immigrants faced in finding a new homeland and starting over in Canada, Jewish society and culture has thrived and flourished here. When Judah Shumiatcher moved to the city of Calgary, for example, he brought with him a Torah scroll - the first one the Jewish community of Calgary had ever seen - and he was welcomed with open arms into the local synagogue.
The synagogue has long been the Jewish house of worship, as well as the centre of the community's social and philanthropic work. In fact, the building of synagogues is often used in the history books as a benchmark, of sorts, for a community's success and progress in putting down roots. Canada's first synagogue, Shearith Israel, was established in Montreal in 1768. Toronto's first synagogue, later called the Holy Blossom Temple, was built in 1856.
There are several forms of religious expression in Jewish culture and many degrees of orthodoxy. Judaism is the ancient Jewish religious tradition that goes back thousands of years and pre-dates Christianity. Modern forms of Jewish religious expression include the more secular Yiddish culture, and Zionism, which helped to create the modern state of Israel. For many Jews, Judaism is an expression of a rich cultural tradition, celebrating holidays and building Jewish community.
Since the biblical origins of the Jews, and throughout their history of migration and resettlement, religion has been the main cohesive force in protecting and perpetuating Jewish identity. It has been especially important in maintaining their strength of community and identity against persecution and the forever widening generational circles.
Most Jewish children in Canada attend public schools, but almost every Jewish community provides facilities for Yiddish and Jewish education. In key urban areas such as Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Winnipeg, there are numerous Jewish day schools, some of which are partially funded by provincial governments. A significant number of Jewish children now attend these day schools. Some Canadian universities have developed programs of Judaic studies.
Today, Jews are among the most philanthropic contributors to Canadian society, especially in the arts, and play prominent roles in the political and cultural spheres of Canadian life.
One of the first Jews to enter Canadian politics was Ezekiel Hart, who was elected to the legislature of Lower Canada, in 1807. Hart could not take his seat, however, because the law of the time demanded that an oath of the Christian faith be taken. This obstacle was removed in 1932, at the same time that Jews were granted the same civil and political rights as other Canadians. It was this kind of progressive and humanistic legislation, 25 years before similar legislation was passed in Britain, that helped shape Canada into a truly sovereign and multi- cultural nation.
Since then, Canadian Jews have been represented in all Canadian political parties: Allan Grossman, the first Jew appointed cabinet minister of a provincial government (Progressive Conservative); the late Larry Grossman, the first Jew to be elected leader of an Ontario provincial party, the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party; Dave Barrett, the first Jew ever to be elected Premier of a province (British Columbia); Stephen Lewis, the first Jewish leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party; David Lewis, former leader of the National New Democratic Party. Herb Gray was the first Jewish Cabinet minister, David Croll the first Jewish senator.
Jews have made deep and profound contributions to Canada and include: Leonard Cohen, Garth Drabinsky, Ed Mirvish, A.M Klein, Irving Layton, Mordecai Richler, Lorne Greene, John Hirsch, Wayne and Shuster, Barbara Frum, Peter C. Newman, the Bronfman family, the Reichmann family and Sam Steinberg(25).
The Shumiatcher family, with roots in Canada going back to the beginning of the century, are truly representative of the Jewish immigrant experience, and the Jewish legacy of being active contributors to Canadian society. Second and third generation Shumiatchers have become poets, writers, filmmakers, architects, lawyers, businessmen, judges, impresarios, musicians and educators. Looking back, Maurice Paperny, grandson of Judah and Chasia Shumiatcher, considers that his family has come a long way."I think that is one of the most phenomenal things about this family," he says. "That they are able to adjust and make their mark in many many fields of endeavour. I think Judah and Chasia would have been very proud of their grandchildren, and even prouder of their great grandchildren, because the seeds have truly scattered
The first Jews immigrated to Canada in the 1750's. As non-Catholics were prohibited from settling they either converted to, or pretended to be, Catholics.
The first significant wave of Jewish immigrants to make Canada their home arrived with General Jeffery Amherst in 1760. Most were from the United States and settled in urban centres, the majority in Montreal. By 1851 the number had increased to 451. Most were middle class and well educated. From 1850-1900 about 15,000 arrived from Europe. 120,000 between 1900 and 1920, 60,000 from 1920 to 1940 and 135,000 from WWII to the 1980' predominantly from the United States, North Africa and the Middle East.
The 1991 Census sows the Canadian Jewish population was estimated to be 356,000. The largest Jewish populations exist in Toronto, with 162,000, Montreal with 98,000, Vancouver, with 25,000. Jewish immigration to Canada continues: 30,000 Jews entered Canada from 1981 to 1991. The American Jewish Year Book of 2012, shows a population of 385,000 making it the fourth largest Jewish community (after the USA, Israel and France).
Immigration restriction s tightened after World War I and throughout the Depression years when upheavals in Europe made Jews desperate to leave and was completely sealed off between 1933 and 1945 when antsemitism appeared.
This changed with the introduction of social legislation and tens of thousands of refugees arrived after the end of World War 2.