MANITOBA


MANITOBA, midcontinent province of Canada, bordering on North Dakota and Minnesota to the south, Ontario to the east, and Saskatchewan to the west. In 1877 the first known Jewish residents of Manitoba were Reuben Goldstein, a peddler, and Edmond Coblentz, a clerk, one of three brothers from Alsace-Lorraine. The 1881 Canadian census listed 33 Jews in Manitoba, 21 of them in Winnipeg. Among those outside Winnipeg were Dr. Hiram Vineberg, originally from Montreal and medical health officer in Portage la Prairie, and Harry Wexelbaum, a hotel operator in West Lynne.

In the spring of 1882, Manitoba's Jewish population expanded more than tenfold with the arrival of 350 refugees fleeing czarist pogroms and promised "free" homesteads. Land had previously been assigned for Mennonites, Icelanders, Scottish, and French settlers but no land was allotted for the Jews in spite of a request by Alexander Galt, Canadian high commissioner in London. Most of the new arrivals were housed in Winnipeg immigration sheds while earlier Jewish residents started an immigrant aid committee and raised $360 for immediate needs. But the newcomers did not wait for charity; men soon found work hauling lumber, women took domestic jobs, and by mid-June, 150 Jewish men were employed laying track across the prairies for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Others took to peddling and trading. The arrival of these Russian Jews was not favorably received in the Winnipeg media. The Manitoba Free Press commented: "… they are not likely to be of any great value to the country."

It took two years until land was found for the Jews, 300 miles west, at Moosomin, beyond the Manitoba border. By this time just 27 families were still willing to go on the land. This settlement, dubbed "New Jerusalem," was declared a failure after several years, but some of the failed farmers returned to Winnipeg to launch successful business enterprises and to help found synagogues and schools.

In 1887, land was first assigned to Jewish farm settlers within Manitoba, at Niverville, 30 miles southeast of Winnipeg, and after the turn of the century in Bender Hamlet and Camper, 70 miles north of Winnipeg. Closer to Winnipeg several Jewish farmers set up dairy farms. At one time there were reported to be Jewish merchant and farm families living in 118 Manitoba towns and villages outside Winnipeg. However, in 1961 Jews were reported living in just three – Portage la Prairie, 111; Brandon, 101; and Flin Flon, 60. In 2004, descendants of Jews who live in one farming town, Winkler, organized a memorial event and dedicated a plaque to the memory of 15 Winkler Jewish pioneer families who lived there between 1890 and 1914. Among Winkler-born Jews was Israel Nitikman, a judge of the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench, and Ernest Sirluck, president of the University of Manitoba in 1970–76. As in Winkler, most Jews in smaller communities eventually moved on, especially to Winnipeg

The total number of Jews in Manitoba, including Winnipeg, grew from 31 in 1881, to 791 in 1891 and to 1,514 in 1901. By 1911 the number ballooned more than sevenfold to 10,741, then by more than half again to 16,669 in 1921. The population of Jews in Manitoba eventually reached 19,341 in 1931 and remained steady until 1971 when population numbers began a decline to 15,215 in 2001. The vast majority of these Jews lived in Winnipeg, the center of Manitoba Jewish life.

Jewish religious services in Manitoba were first held on Yom Kippur in 1879, in a private Winnipeg home. Regular Sabbath services began after the arrival of the Russian Jews in 1882. Some Jewish laborers celebrated Rosh Ha-Shanah that year in a tent at a railway station 40 miles from Winnipeg; they raised $100 among themselves to order a Sefer Torah and a shofar from New York. Synagogues also were established in Brandon in 1906, Portage la Prairie in 1908 and, meeting the needs of summer vacationers, in Winnipeg Beach in 1951. The first two synagogues have long been closed; the latter opens every summer. In the past, several smaller Jewish communities, including Winkler, also had synagogues or at least organized High Holiday services.

With the vast majority of Manitoba Jews congregated in Winnipeg, arguably the greatest area of Jewish impact in Manitoba was in politics – federal, provincial, and municipal. As early as 1882, Harry Wexelbaum served as a municipal councilor in West Lynne, before that community merged with the neighboring town of Emerson. Later Samuel Rosner served as mayor of Plum Coulee. In Flin Flon in Northern Manitoba, with only 60 Jews in a population of 10,200 residents during the 1960s and 1970s, Jack Freedman served as mayor for more than 10 years. Harry Trager was mayor of the neighboring town of The Pas, which could not muster a minyan among its 5,031 population.

Serious political activity took place in Winnipeg, where Jews often sparred politically with one another. In 1904, Moses Finkelstein of the Conservative Party was the first Winnipeg Jew elected to the city council, where Jews served continuously for most of the 20th century. In 1910, S. Hart Green (Liberal) was elected to the Manitoba Legislature, the first Jew to sit in a Canadian provincial assembly. In 1912, Alter Skaleter (Conservative) was elected to the city council, serving for five years, and was succeeded by Labour candidate Abraham A. Heaps. Heaps was a leader in Winnipeg's 1919 General Strike, and was arrested with other strike leaders. In 1926 he was elected Labour Member of Parliament from the heavily Jewish Winnipeg North riding and served until 1941. Max Steinkopf, a lawyer and leader in the YMHA and B'nai B'rith, was elected to the School Board in 1916. He supported the anti-strike Committee of 1000, which was formed in response to the 1919 General Strike. In 1920, Steinkopf was defeated by Labour candidate Rosa Alcin. In 1927 and again in 1932, William Tobias (Conservative) was elected to the Manitoba legislature. Marcus Hyman (Labour) was elected and, of special note, sponsored the first group libel law adopted in Canada. In 1959 Maitland Steinkopf became the first Jewish cabinet minster in Manitoba under Conservative Premier Duff Roblin; he declined to run again in 1966 but continued to serve the province in his capacity as chair of the Manitoba Centennial Corporation until his death in 1970.

Three prominent left-leaning politicians, Morris A. Gray, David Orlikow, and Saul M. Cherniack, began political careers as Winnipeg School Board representatives before moving to the city council and then to the Legislature. In 1962 Orlikow was elected to the House of Commons, and in 1969 Cherniack became one of three Jewish cabinet ministers in Manitoba's first New Democratic Party government, along with Saul A. Miller, who had been mayor of suburban West Kildonan, and Sidney Green. In the early 1970s, Sidney J. Spivak served as leader of the opposition Progressive Conservative Party, and Israel H. Asper sat in the Legislature briefly as leader of the Liberal Party before going on to become a media mogul and philanthropist. In 1986 Mira Spivak was appointed a Progressive Conservative senator from Manitoba; from 2004 she sat as an independent. In 2000 Anita Neville (née Schwartz), former School Board member, was elected to Parliament as a Liberal and re-elected in 2004. Also in 2004 Israeli-born Sam Katz, an entrepreneur and entertainment and sports promoter, was elected as the first Jewish mayor of Winnipeg.

[Abraham Arnold (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.