Home Culture Canada 150 Canada at 150: Digging into our Jewish past, Part 1

Canada at 150: Digging into our Jewish past, Part 1

The Canadian Jewish News, June 16, 1967. SIMON FRASER UNIVERSITY

Canada is celebrating its first 150 years and as Jews join in the party, it’s easier than ever to get a glimpse of how Jewish life has evolved over the years. This country has a rich history of Jewish newspapers and thankfully, many of them have been digitized and can be read online, free of charge. As you pore over the papers, you may come across a story that resonates or infuriates. Or perhaps find a wedding announcement about the patriarch of your family.

In the debut issue of the Canadian Jewish Review from Nov. 4, 1921, you will find congratulatory letters from Nathan Phillips, future mayor of the City of Toronto, and from the Hon. Sir Arthur Meighen, Premier of Canada. “The Jewish citizens of Canada have fully contributed their quota to the upbuilding and advancement of the country,” writes Meighen. “And a Review devoted to the diffusion of news and views making for a more complete realization of the duties of citizenship will be a publication of great value. Jewish spirit and endeavour have given much to the world, and we may look forward to a still wider contribution in the future.”

Issues of the Review have been digitized from 1921 though 1966.

Another paper which you can read online is Vancouver’s Jewish Western Bulletin, the “Only Jewish Weekly West of Winnipeg.” I pulled up the May 20, 1948 issue to see how Israel’s fight for independence was reported. At the top of the page in bold letters there’s this line: “You Cannot Live in a World Apart – You Are An Israelite Again.” Below that is a graphic, “JEWISH BLOOD FLOWS AGAIN.” And there’s a story about how “1,400 men and women from all parts of the city, many of them non-Jewish… filled the Vogue theatre Sunday to solemnly mark the establishment of the State of Israel.”

You can browse issues of the Bulletin from 1925 to 2005.

And then, of course, there is the Canadian Jewish News. Established in 1960 and published in Toronto by Meyer and Dorothy Nurenberger, its first issue carries these stories:

• After consulting with the Canadian Jewish Congress, 465 parents who signed a petition “are about to win a complete victory against the teaching of religion” at Wilmington Public School in Downsview, Ontario.

• There’s an article about an advertisement in a recent edition of the Globe and Mail for an “exclusive Jewish Golf and Country Club” in Toronto. The ad has perplexed local Jewish leaders and media, and has defied attempts to determine just who the mysterious organizer is.

•  The CJN reports that The Toronto Telegram newspaper has protested in an editorial American aid to Gamal Nasser, the President of Egypt.

And how about this editorial from July 16, 1971, titled, “Jewish education: The time to act is now!” It reads in part, “When one discusses today the duty of parents to provide their children with education, he may be out of the crowd, certainly not mod, not groovy. However there are those among us who do believe, who do not subscribe to the theory that because Darwin compared us to apes, it is our duty to ape various fads and fashions. … There is no substitute for Torah education when parents consider the future of a child.”

In 1971, The Canadian Jewish News was purchased by three Toronto businessmen to be operated on a non-profit basis on behalf of the Jewish community. You can view that first issue here. Issues of The Canadian Jewish News dating from January 1960 to December 1993 are available online.

CBC Digital Archives: Jews not welcome in wartime Canada

The CBC Digital Archives has preserved a 1982 documentary about a shameful time in Canada’s past: How this country barred its the door to European Jews trying to flee Nazi oppression. Marking the publishing of the seminal book, None is Too Many, the report interviews co-author Irving Abella. We also hear from businessman Saul Sigler who had pleaded with Frederick Blair, Canada’s Director of Immigration during the war, to let his family in. Sigler’s family perished in Auschwitz.

Back in 1925, when Canada was not yet 60 years old, the American Jewish Committee published a 76-page article titled, The Jews of Canada by Martin Wolff. In it, Wolff traces the first 165 years of Jewish settlement in what would become Canada. It traces the growth of Jewish communities across the country, establishment of synagogues and communal organizations and looks at our early leaders.

Although it is quite readable, I must admit that this article does not really breathe life into what life was really like for the Jews of Canada a century ago or longer. Like what was on Jewish restaurant menus or what were Jewish weddings like and what did sweat shops look like? We’ll get to those next time.