A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History


The history of the Jews in Québec dates back to the English conquest of Québec on the bloody Plains of Abraham. There were two prominent Jewish men involved in that conflict. One man, Abraham Gradis, was a Jew from Bordeaux, who had never set foot in Québec. The Charter of the Company of New France, granted in 1627, stipulated that the colony should be populated by Catholics of French stock. This policy was reiterated in the Edict of Nantes, in which Louis XIV proclaimed that neither Jew nor Huguenot might settle in the new colonies.

The Gradis family were wealthy French shipowners who ironically became the most important link between France and Québec. It was the ships of Abraham Gradis that brought many of the supplies and munitions to General Montcalm and his men during the siege of Québec. The supply route was kept open until July 1759, when a fleet of 20 British ships carrying 11,000 men sealed off the mouth of the St. Lawrence cutting off the Gradis' ships. Ironically, the Second-in-Command of this British fleet was Alexander Schomberg, also of Jewish ancestry and a member of General Wolfe's staff. After France's defeat at the Plains of Abraham, King Louis XIV did not forget the important contribution which Abraham Gradis had made during the war.

In recognition of this, King Louis XIV granted full rights and privileges to the Jews living in Bordeaux. These rights which the King extended, included the right to settle in the French colonies. Although there were many prominent Jewish settlers in Québec following the British conquest, the most notable was Aaron Hart. Hart is credited with being the first Jew to settle in the British Colony in 1760. He became a wealthy, prominent member of Québec society. Amongst his many accomplishments, he is thought to have single-handedly established the fur trade in the Three River Settlement of Québec. His success made him the wealthiest landowner in the Empire outside of Britain.

Despite the success of the early Jewish settlers after the British conquest, the first census taken in Canada in 1831 indicated that there were only 107 Jewish settlers in Canada. Ten years later this number had only risen to 154. Over the next sixty-years, the first major wave of Jewish immigration made its way to Canada. They arrived as part of an exodus of Europeans sick of the long years of war, strife poverty and a stringent class system which trapped people in lives of poverty. They were looking to North America as a way out of the misery which they faced in Europe. This influx of immigrants is reflected in the growth in Canada's population from 3.7 million in 1871 to 5.4 million people in 1901. The number of Jewish Immigrants in this period was 15,000. While the majority of the Jewish immigrants settled in Montréal and Toronto, by 1901 Jews had settled in 113 communities in every province of Canada. The vast majority of these communities recorded a Jewish population of less than 88 people. Of the Jewish immigrants who came to Canada, most were unskilled laborers, small merchants or clerical workers with a large proportion listing no specific occupation. The second major wave of immigration occurred between 1901 and 1927. During this twenty-six year period, the Jewish population grew from less than 17,000 to 125,000. Although Jews continued to settle right across Canada, the largest concentration continued to be in Québec, with 47,977 Jewish immigrants. Ontario had 47,798.

The next province in terms of Jewish population was Manitoba with a population of 16,699. Montréal and Toronto, both had Jewish populations of 15,000. 70% of the Jewish immigrants who came with this wave were skilled workers and artisans, in comparison to 20% of the general immigrant population.

Like the Jewish immigrants who made up the first wave of immigrants, this group tended to have very little in terms of money, arriving with just a few dollars in their pockets. A concentration of Jewish immigrants became involved in the garment trade. There were several attractions to this type of work. It was piece work, which was done from home. It was work that the entire family could become involved in - often the children by the age of thirteen or fourteen were contributing to the family coffers. Jewish immigration ended in 1927, when the Liberal government of Mackenzie King stopped immigration to most new Canadians. The new immigration laws, which made it much more difficult to get into Canada, particularly affected the Jews of Eastern Europe, an area where anti-Semitism was on the rise. For the Jewish community already established in Canada, it became a question of trying to rescue friends and relatives.

In response, The Jewish Immigrant Aid Services of Canada [JIAS] was established to lobby the government to allow Jews to immigrate. During the 1930's, as word started to seep out of Europe about the terrible plight of the Jews in Nazi Germany, the government of Mackenzie King refused to loosen the restrictions on immigration. Part of the problem was that Canada was in the depths of an economic depression, but there was also Director of Immigration, F.C. Blair, and Undersecretary of State, O.D. Skelton, both of whom did not want to open the door to Jewish refugees. Between 1933-39, there were 800,000 European Jews seeking sanctuary. Argentina admitted 22,000. Australia admitted 10,000 and was preparing to receive 15,000 more at the time of the outbreak of the war. Brazil admitted 20,000 Jews, United States welcomed 140,000. In contrast, Canada only accepted 4,000 Jewish refugees.

In 1946, with the full horror of the holocaust starting to emerge, Canada opened her doors once again to immigration. Thousands of Europeans were labeled as 'Displaced Persons'. They no longer had homes to return to. Their lives had been destroyed by the war. 40,000 survivors of the Nazi camps made their way to Canada. In 1947, Canada established the 'Group Movement Plan' - 1,000 Jewish war orphans were brought to Canada. With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Israel soon became the primary destination for Jewish refugees. Between 1947- 50, 98,057 DP's were admitted to Canada. The Jews ranked third in terms of admission behind the Poles and Ukrainians.

In the 1950's, a larger number of North Africa Jews were making their way to Canada. These French-speaking Jews tended to settle in Québec. They were known as the 'Sephardic' or the French-speaking Jews, although not all the Jews from North Africa were French speaking. Between 10,000 North African Jews settled Canada between 1957 and 1980. Of this number, 75% were from Morocco, and the majority of these immigrants settled in Montréal. The Moroccan Jews tended to be well-educated and flourished in Canada.

Most of the Moroccan Jews who immigrated to Canada did so for political, not economic reasons. They came to Canada out of the uncertainty of the what life would be like following the pull out of the French and the creation of an all Arab government. Thousands left Morocco following the 6 day war in 1967, and, like Solly Lévy and his wife Madeleine, they found that their French language was a great asset in Canada, particularly in Québec, where the majority settled.

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