TORONTO — Jews have been in Canada since the late 17th century, with some of the first being of Portuguese descent.
A touring picture exhibit assembled by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) titled Jews: A Canadian Story in Pictures was launched last month at the Joseph and Minnie Wagman Centre of Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto. It runs until June 21.
The 16-panel pictographic display charts the history of Jews in Canada, with photos from the 1800s up until the 1960s.
“Since 1760, Jews have helped open Canada’s frontier, build Canada’s cities, fight in Canada’s wars, and have made their mark on Canada’s society,” reads the introductory poster for the exhibit.
It adds: “The story of Canadian Jews is a story of immigrants, farmers, factory workers, soldiers, survivors, social activists, entrepreneurs and – yes – the occasional cowboy.”
You read that right: Jewish cowboys. In one of the exhibit’s more amusing and amazing pictures, viewers will see a 1930 photo of Curly Gurevitch, the “Cowboy from the Colony,” and his horse, Rex.
The photos were culled from a number of sources, including the Jewish Public Library Archives, Canadian Jewish Congress’ Charities Committee National Archives and the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta.
It’s a fascinating look at the earliest known images of Jewish settlers to Canada and the generations that followed, whether from war-torn Europe, survivors of the Holocaust or the Jewish exodus from Morocco in the 1950s and 1960s.
Judy Zelikovitz, CIJA’s vice-president of university and local partner services, told The CJN this project is part of CIJA’s efforts to educate the general public about the Jewish community’s deep, historical roots in the country.
“One of our objectives is to let Canadians know that Jewish Canadians have been a part of the scene for generations and to talk about this history to other Canadians,” she said.
“Often, others look at our community as immigrants. And yes, at one time we were, and there continues to be an influx, but really we were also here from the very early days.”
The exhibit comes with a written guide for educators to use as talking points for students who tour the display. There are also docents on hand to answer questions and explain the exhibit to visitors.
CIJA plans to take exhibit on tour across the country and has also produced a bilingual version of it for use in Quebec.
According to Zelikovitz, depending on where the exhibit is on display, it can also be tailored to address specific Jewish communities via “addendums” that will help focus on their own roles in Canadian Jewish history.