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Though a small minority, Jews have been important in shaping Canadian culture and identity and have had an open presence in the country since the arrival of the first Jewish immigrants after the British Empire took possession of nearly all of New France after the 1763 Treaty of Paris ending the Seven Years' War.
Before 1760, there were officially no Jews in New France because when King Louis XIV made Canada officially a province of the Kingdom of France in 1663, he decreed that only Roman Catholics could enter the colony. The earliest documentation of Jews in Canada are British Army records from the French and Indian War, the North American part of the Seven Years' War. In 1760, General Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst attacked and seized Montreal, winning Canada for the British. Several Jews were members of his regiments, and among his officer corps were four Jews: Emmanuel de Cordova, Aaron Hart, Hananiel Garcia, and Isaac Miramer.
The most prominent of the four was Lieutenant Aaron Hart, who after his service in the army had ended, settled in Trois-Rivières. Eventually he became a very wealthy landowner and a respected community member. He had four sons, Moses, Benjamin, Ezekiel and Alexander, all of whom would become prominent in Montreal and help build the Jewish Community. One of his sons, Ezekiel Hart, was elected to the legislature of Lower Canada in the by-election of April 11, 1807, becoming the first Jew in an official opposition in the British Empire. When he was sworn into office, he took the oath on the Hebrew Bible instead of on the Christian Bible. The Catholic population of Upper and Lower Canada was outraged and Ezekiel was expelled from the legislature. Sir James Henry Craig, Governor-General of Lower Canada at the time, tried to protect Hart, but the legislature dismissed him in both 1808 and 1809. French Canadians later saw this as an attempt of the British to undermine their role in Canada. Ezekiel was re-elected to the legislature, but Jews were not allowed to hold elected office in Canada until a generation later.
Revolts and protests soon began calling for responsible government in Canada. The law requiring the oath "on my faith as a Christian" was amended in 1829 to provide for Jews to not take the oath. In 1831, prominent French-Canadian politician Louis-Joseph Papineau sponsored a law which granted full equivalent political rights to Jews, 27 years before anywhere else in the British Empire.
Most of the early Jewish Canadians were either fur traders or served in the British Army troops. A few were merchants or landowners. Although Montreal's Jewish community was small, numbering only around 200, they built the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of Montreal, Shearith Israel, the Oldest synagogues in Canada in 1768. In 1832, partly because of the work of Ezekiel Hart, a law was passed that guaranteed Jews the same political rights and freedoms as Christians. In the early 1830s, German Jew Samuel Liebshitz founded Jewsburg (now incorporated as German Mills into Kitchener, Ontario), a village in Upper Canada. By 1850, there were still only 450 Jews living in Canada, mostly concentrated in Montreal.
The first Jew known to have resided in Quebec City was Abraham Jacob Franks, who settled there in 1767. His son, David Salesby (or Salisbury) Franks, who afterward became head of the Montreal Jewish community and an officer in the Continental Army, also lived in Quebec prior to 1774. Abraham Joseph, who was long a prominent figure in public affairs in Quebec City, took up his residence there shortly after his father's death in 1832. Quebec City's Jewish population for many years remained very small, and early efforts at organization were fitful and short-lived. A cemetery was acquired in 1853, and a place of worship was opened in a hall in the same year, in which services were held intermittently; but it was not until 1892 that the Jewish population of Quebec City had sufficiently augmented to permit of the permanent establishment of the present synagogue, Beth Israel. The congregation was granted the right of keeping a register in 1897. Other communal institutions were the Quebec Hebrew Sick Benefit Association, the Quebec Hebrew Relief Association for Immigrants, and the Quebec Zionist Society. By 1905, the Jewish population was about 350, in a total population of 68,834.
However, with the beginning of the pogroms of Russia in the 1880s, and continuing through the growing anti-Semitism of the early 20th century, millions of Jews began to flee the Pale of Settlement and other areas of Eastern Europe for the West. Although the United States received the overwhelming majority of these immigrants, Canada was also a destination of choice due to Government of Canada and Canadian Pacific Railway efforts to develop Canada after Confederation. Between 1880 and 1930, the Jewish population of Canada grew to over 155,000.
Jewish immigrants brought a tradition of establishing a communal body, called a kehilla to look after the social and welfare needs of their less fortunate. Virtually all of these Jewish refugees were very poor. Wealthy Jewish philanthropists, who had come to Canada much earlier, felt it was their social responsibility to help their fellow Jews get established in this new country. One such man was Abraham De Sola, who founded the Hebrew Philanthropic Society. In Montreal and Toronto, there developed a wide range of communal organizations and groups. Recently arrived immigrant Jews also founded landsmenschaften, guilds of people who came originally from the same village.
Most of these immigrants established communities in the larger cities. Canada’s first ever census, recorded that in 1871 there were 1,115 Jews in Canada; 409 in Montreal, 157 in Toronto, 131 in Hamilton and the rest were dispersed in small communities along the St. Lawrence River. There was also a community of about 100 that settled in Victoria, British Columbia to open shops to supply prospectors during the Cariboo Gold Rush (and later the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon). This led to the opening of a synagogue in Victoria, British Columbia in 1862.
When British Columbia sent their delegation to Ottawa to agree on the colony’s entry into Confederation, a Jew, Henry Nathan, Jr., was among them. Nathan eventually became the first Canadian Jewish Member of Parliament. By 1911, there were Jewish communities in all of Canada's major cities.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, through such utopian movements as the Jewish Colonization Association, fifteen Jewish farm colonies were established on the Canadian prairies; However, few of the colonies did very well. This was partly because, the Jews of East European origin were not allowed to own farms in the old country, and thus had little experience in farming. One settlement that did do well was Yid'n Bridge, Saskatchewan, started by South African farmers. Eventually the community grew larger as the South African Jews, who had gone to South Africa from Lithuania invited Jewish families directly from Europe to join them, and the settlement eventually became a town, whose name was later changed to the Anglicized name of Edenbridge., The Jewish farming settlement did not last to a second generation, however. Beth Israel Synagogue at Edenbridge is now a designated heritage site. In Alberta, the Little Synagogue on the Prairie is now in the collection of a museum.
At this time, most of the Jewish Canadians in the west were either storekeepers or tradesmen. Many set up shops on the new rail lines, selling goods and supplies to the construction workers, many of whom were also Jewish. Later, because of the railway, some of these homesteads grew into prosperous towns. At this time, Canadian Jews also had important roles in developing the west coast fishing industry, while others worked on building telegraph lines. Some, descended from the earliest Canadian Jews, stayed true to their ancestors as fur trappers. The first major Jewish organization to appear was B'nai Brith. Till today B'nai Brith Canada is the community's independent advocacy and social service organization. Also at this time, the Montreal Branch of the Workmen's Circle was founded in 1907. This group was an off-shoot of the Jewish Labour Bund, an outlawed party in Russia's Pale of Settlement. It was an organization for The Main's radical, non-Communist, non-religious, working class.
By the outbreak of World War I, there were approximately 100,000 Canadian Jews, of whom three-quarters lived in either Montreal or Toronto. Many of the children of the European refugees started out as peddlers, eventually working their way up to established businesses, such as retailers and wholesalers. Jewish Canadians played an essential role in the development of the Canadian clothing and textile industry. Most worked as labourers in sweatshops; while some owned the manufacturing facilities. Jewish merchants and labourers spread out from the cities to small towns, building synagogues, community centres and schools as they went.
As the population grew, Canadian Jews began to organize themselves as a community despite the presence of dozens of competing sects. The Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) was founded in 1919 as the result of the merger of several smaller organizations. The purpose of the CJC was to speak on behalf of the common interests of Jewish Canadians and assist immigrant Jews. The First World War halted the flow of all immigrants to Canada, and after the war there was a change in Canada's immigration policy. It restricted the people who were allowed to immigrate to Canada: people from "non-preferred nations", i.e., those not from the United Kingdom or otherwise White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, found it extremely difficult to gain admission to Canada. The 50,000 Jews who moved to Canada during the inter-war years were almost exclusively from Great Britain and the United States. By 1920, there were 125,000 Jews in Canada, with most choosing to settle in Montreal, followed by Toronto and Winnipeg.
In 1907, in 1913, and again in 1919-1921 – all years witnessing economic strains in Canada – steps were taken to reduce immigration. Canadian governments became increasingly effective at regulating immigration and matching it to the impulses of the economy. In addition, Canada's immigrations laws had always been ethnically selective - Jews, Orientals and blacks were on the bottom of the list. Between 1921 and 1931, only 15,800 Jewish immigrants were allowed into the country.
As a response to the unemployment created by the Great Depression, the Canadian Government increased restrictions on immigration enacting two orders-in-council. The first, in 1930, barred all immigration from Europe with the exception of those with sufficient funds to support themselves on farms and those with immediate family already in the country. The second introduced a further set of restrictions, allowing only British and American citizens with independent means or who were in the farming, mining, lumbering, or logging industries into the country.
Thus, during the Great Depression, immigration declined further. In addition, deportations were enforced. Between 1930 and 1934, 16,765 immigrants were deported from Canada; by 1935, the number had reached more than 28,000, the grounds becoming more and more varied: union activities, membership in the Communist Party, medical reasons or charges of criminality such as vagrancy.
By the time the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933 and rising numbers of Jews sought refuge in other countries, it had become virtually impossible for Jews to find refuge in Canada. The absence of any kind of refugee policy in Canada during the Great Depression was hugely felt by refugees until 1945. Samuel William Jacobs of Montreal, the second Jew ever elected to the House of Commons in 1917 (and the first from Eastern Canada), later joined by Abraham Albert Heaps of Winnipeg in 1925 and by Sam Factor of Toronto in 1930 fought a difficult battle against quotas which all but banned Jewish immigration from Europe in the years prior to World War II.
Another important factor in the plight of Jewish refugees was the widespread presence of anti-Semitism in Canada which was rife among Canada's ruling elite, reflecting a deep-rooted prejudice in Canadian society. "Indeed, anti-Semitism was a way of life in Canada. Many industries did not hire Jews, and Jewish professionals were routinely excluded from jobs at universities, hospitals and law firms. Clubs, resorts and beaches also barred Jewish Canadians." Prime Minister Mackenzie King himself was not free of prejudices against Jews. He had bought all the land around Kingsmere, his country house, so that no Jew could move in near him. About the refugee problem he wrote in his diary: "We must seek to keep this part of the continent free from unrest and from too great an intermixture of foreign strains of blood."  The reluctance of the Canadian government to admit Jewish refugees in any great numbers was a fair reflection of public opinion [...] which was a strong Anglo-Saxon nativism permeated with anti-Semitism". The social exclusion of Jews was common in the institutions of English-speaking Canada while a vociferous anti-Semitic discourse was heard in Quebec, spearheaded by the home-grown Nazi movement of Adrien Arcand, and legitimized by some members of the Catholic clergy and, otherwise, respectable newspapers such as Montreal's Le Devoir.
In 1935, King’s government appointed Frederick Charles Blair, an outspoken anti-Semite, director of the Immigration Branch of the Department of Mines and Resources. And as director of immigration, he set the policy of who got into Canada. His views are expressed In a letter to a strong opponent of Jewish immigration: "I suggested recently to three Jewish gentlemen with whom I am well acquainted, but it might be a very good thing if they would call a conference and have a day of humiliation and prayer, which might profitably be extended for a week or more, where they would honestly try to answer the question of why they are so unpopular almost everywhere...I often think that instead of persecution it would be far better if we more often told them frankly why many of them are unpopular. If they would divest themselves of certain of their habits I am sure they could be just as popular in Canada as our Scandinavian friends are."
By 1938, as anti-Semitism came to a boil in Germany, Canada began to actively restrict Jewish immigration. Blair raised the amount of money immigrants had to possess to come to Canada from $5,000 to $15,000. As well, they had to be farmers, although most were coming from cities.
Blair followed the immigration regulations - many written by himself - to the letter and then boasted about his success in keeping Jews out of the country.
Canadian Jews held large demonstrations in the late 1930s pleading with their government to help, but to no avail. Senator Cairine Wilson was one of the country's leading voices against fascism and one of the few non-Jews lobbying for the refugees. Wilson begged Prime Minister Mackenzie King to let in 1,000 refugees. Receiving no help from King, Wilson tried other tactics but faced the same results. Wilson finally tried to have 100 Jewish orphans admitted to Canada, but Blair's regulations banned all but two of them.
When Samuel Bronfman became president of the Canadian Jewish Congress in 1939 (succeeding Jacobs who served as president of the revived CJC from 1934 until his death in 1938), he worked nonstop along with David Lewis, the National Secretary of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (a social democratic political party), the Workmen's Circle and the Jewish Labour Committee, to make Canada a refuge for the increasingly desperate Jews of Europe.
In June 1939 Canada and the United States were the last hope for 907 Jewish refugees aboard the steamship SS St. Louis which had been denied to land in Havana although the passengers had entry visas. The Canadian government ignored the protests of Canadian Jewish organizations. King said the crisis was not a "Canadian problem" and Blair added in a letter to O.D. Skelton, Undersecretary of State for External Affairs, dated June 16, 1939, "No country could open its doors wide enough to take in the hundreds of thousands of Jewish people who want to leave Europe: the line must be drawn somewhere." The ship finally had to return to Germany.
“Through government inaction and Blair’s bureaucratic anti-Semitism, Canada emerged from the war with one of the worst records of Jewish refugee resettlement in the world. Between 1933 and 1939, Canada accepted only 4,000 of the 800,000 Jews who had escaped from Nazi-controlled Europe.”
Almost twenty thousand Jewish Canadians volunteered to fight for Canada during the Second World War.
After the war, Canada liberalized its immigration policy. Roughly 40,000 Holocaust survivors came during the late 1940s, hoping to rebuild their shattered lives. Later in the 1950s, tens of thousands of Jews left French colonial North Africa, particularly Algerian and Morocco, as well as the French colony that became Lebanon and Syria, as those countries sought independence from France. Most of these Jews moved to Montreal and Quebec City, where their French language helped them quickly adapt. From 1941 to 1961, the population of Jewish Canadians grew from 170,000 to 260,000. Sephardi and Mizrachi synagogues founded by these refugees form the Muslim world include Congregation Maghen Abraham (Montreal).
In 1947, the Workmen's Circle and Jewish Labour Committee started a project, spearheaded by Kalmen Kaplansky and Moshe Lewis, to bring Jewish refuges to Montreal in the needle trades, called the Tailors Project. They were able to do this through the federal government's "bulk-labour" program that allowed labour intensive industries to bring European displaced persons to Canada, in order to fill those jobs. For Lewis' work on this and other projects during this period, the Montreal branch was renamed the Mosihe Lewis Branch, after his death in 1950. The Canadian arm of the Jewish Labor Committee also honored him when they established the Moishe Lewis Foundation in 1975.
The impact of the Cold War was felt within the Jewish community when, in 1950, the Montreal headquarters of the left-wing United Jewish Peoples' Order was closed by police under the Padlock Law. In 1951 the Canadian Jewish Congress expelled the UJPO and other left-wing Jewish groups thought to have Communist affiliations. Into the 1950s the Jewish community supported Jewish socialist and communist candidates at all levels of government. Starting in the 1920s, left-leaning Jewish politicians were regularly elected to Canada's federal parliament. Two primary examples are Labour and Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) member of parliament A.A. Heaps, from the Jewish working class riding of Winnipeg North; and, Labour Progressive Party member of parliament Fred Rose, from the largely Jewish riding of Cartier in Montreal. Communists J.B. Salsberg and A.A. MacLeod were elected to the Ontario legislature from predominantly Jewish ridings and other communists were elected locally in Winnipeg and Vancouver. However, in 1956, the Communist Labour-Progressive Party split with the departure of J.B. Salsberg, Robert Laxer and the vast majority of Jews in the party. The split occurred after Salsberg returned from the Soviet Union and reported on his findings of antisemitism under Joseph Stalin. The tradition of electing socialist politicians continued for several decades. David Lewis, was elected four times as the member of parliament (MP) for the York South federal electoral district, which included the wealthy Jewish enclave of Forest Hill, Ontario. He also became the first Jewish leader of a major political party during this period, as the head of the New Democratic Party (NDP). The federal riding of Winnipeg North, with a large Jewish population, was represented by the NDP's David Orlikow until the 1990s.
Canadian Jewish communities created many cultural organizations, including schools, summer camps, historical societies, and musical groups throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
Toronto's Jewish community grew to become the largest in Canada. Montreal's Jewish community remains the second largest, where Yiddish remains spoken amongst some of the ultra-orthodox communities. Other significant Jewish communities are those of Vancouver, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Calgary.
Unlike in previous generations, the Canadian Jewish peoples of the postwar period became more integrated into Canadian life, and more secular. The breakthrough for all minorities and all the people of Canada came when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau introduced the 1971 federal policy of multiculturalism. Later, this policy was integrated into the Canadian Constitution.
Today the Jewish culture in Canada is maintained by both practicing Jews and those who choose not to practice the religion. Nearly all Jews in Canada speak one of the two official languages, although most speak English over French. However, there seems to be a sharp division between the Ashkenazi and the Sephardi community in Quebec. The former overwhelmingly speak English while the latter mostly speak French. There is also an increasing large number who speak Hebrew, other than for religious ceremonies, while a few keep the Yiddish language alive.
Canada is now home to the fourth largest Jewish community in the world, less than the United States, Israel or France, but more than Russia or the United Kingdom. Most of Canada's Jews live in Ontario and Quebec, followed by British Columbia, Manitoba and Alberta. While Toronto is the largest Jewish population centre, Montreal played this role until many English-speaking Jewish Canadians left for Toronto, fearing that Quebec might leave the federation following the rise during the 1970s of nationalist political parties in Quebec, as well as a result of Québec's Language Law. According to the 2001 census, 164,510 Jews lived in Toronto, 105,765 in Montreal, 17,270 in Vancouver, 12,760 in Winnipeg, 11,325 in Ottawa, 6,530 in Calgary, 3,980 in Edmonton, and 3,855 in Hamilton.
Recent surveys of the national Jewish population are unavailable. According to population studies of Montreal and Vancouver, 14% and 22% are Orthodox, 37% and 30% are Conservative and 19% and 5% are Reform. The Reform movement is weaker in Canada, especially in Quebec, compared to the United States. This may explain the higher proportion of Canadian Jews who identify as unaffiliated - 30% in Montreal and 28% in Vancouver - than is the case in the United States. As in the United States, regular synagogue attendance is rather low - with less than one-quarter attending synagogue once a month or more. However, Canadian Jews also seem to have lower intermarriage rates than the American Jewish community.
Canadian census data should be reviewed with care, because it contains separate categories for religion and for ethnicity. Some Canadians identify themselves as ethnically but not religiously Jewish.
The Jewish population is growing rather slowly due to aging and low birth rates. The population of Canadian Jews increased by just 3.5% between 1991 and 2001, despite much immigration from the Former Soviet Union, Israel and other countries.
Recently, anti-Semitism has become a growing concern, with reports of anti-semitic incidents increasing sharply over the past two years. This includes the well publicized anti-Semitic comments by David Ahenakew and Ernst Zundel. However, anti-semitism is less of a concern in Canada than it is in most countries with significant Jewish populations. The League for Human Rights of B'nai Brith monitors the incidents and prepares an annual audit of these events.
Politically, the major Jewish Canadian organizations are B'nai Brith Canada and the Canadian Jewish Congress which both claim to be the voice of the Jewish community. To the left of both groups is Independent Jewish Voices (Canada), which argues that the CJC and B'nai Brith do not speak for most Canadian Jews. Also, many Canadian Jews simply have no connections to any of these organizations.
Differing views in the Jewish community are reflected in the periodicals Jewish Tribune, the largest weekly Jewish newspaper published by B'nai Brith Canada, Canadian Jewish News, a moderate weekly generally reflective of the views of the Canadian Jewish Congress, and the left-leaning Outlook, published six times a year. Western Canadian Jewish views are reflected in the Winnipeg-based weekly The Jewish Post & News.
The birth rate for Jews in Canada is much higher than that in USA, with a TFR of 1.87 according to the 2001 Census. This is due to the presence of large numbers of orthodox Jews in Canada.  According to the census, the Jewish birth rate and TFR is higher than that of the Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox(1.35), Buddhist(1.34) and Non-Religious(1.41) populations, but slightly lower than that of Hindus(2.00) and Sikhs(1.9).
Some of Canada's leading figures are Jewish, and many have become household names. Many of Canada's leading scientists, doctors and researchers are Jews. Jewish Canadians have also been important in music and the arts, with many finding success internationally as well as at home. Canadian Jews have also won seats in all of the provincial legislatures, served as mayors of Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Edmonton, Kingston, and Winnipeg and have been judges in Canadian courts at all levels. In 1970, Bora Laskin became the first Jew appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, followed by Morris Fish in 2003, Rosalie Abella in 2004, and Marshall Rothstein in 2006. Some famous Canadian Jews who have made important contributions to Canada and the world are Dave Barrett, Fanny Rosenfeld, Samuel Bronfman, Mike Cammalleri, Leonard Cohen, Irwin Cotler, Barbara Frum, Victor Goldbloom, Herb Gray, Chaim Goldberg, Izzy Asper, Jack Granatstein, Lorne Greene, Monty Hall, Mel Hurtig, A.M. Klein, Irving Layton, Geddy Lee, Eugene Levy, David Lewis, Stephen Lewis, Rick Moranis, Peter C. Newman,Steven Page, Steve Paikin, Steven Pinker, Mordecai Richler, Seth Rogen, Mort Sahl, Irving Schwartz, William Shatner, Joe Shuster, Janice Gross Stein, Howard Shore,William Weintraub, Nikki Yanofsky, and Moses Znaimer.