SASKATCHEWAN


SASKATCHEWAN, province in W. Canada; part of Canada's Northwest Territories until incorporated as a province in 1905.

Saskatchewan's first Jewish resident was Max Goldstein, a Russian-born tailor who opened a store in Fort Qu'Appelle in 1877. During the Second Riel Rebellion in 1885 he served as quartermaster. In 1882 a Jewish farm project, called New Jerusalem, was started in the Moosomin area, but adverse conditions forced the settlers to give up. Numerous Jews were among those who laid tracks for the Canadian Pacific Railroad in the early 1880s.

After 1888 farm colonies were started which survived several generations. Jewish farm colonies were sometimes utopian ventures directed from above, and sometimes independent initiatives. The first colony was established in 1888, near Wapella. In 1892 the Young Men's Hebrew and Benevolent Society, on behalf of the Jewish Colonization Association (ICA), established the colony of Hirsch (named after Baron De Hirsch) in southern Saskatchewan; its initial group consisted of 47 Russian Jewish families. The first Jews to settle in the Wapella area were John Heppner and Abraham Kleiman. By 1892 there were 20 Jewish families, and young men interested in farming came to Wapella for their training. Hirsch had the oldest Jewish cemetery in the province, and was the site of the province's first synagogue building. The town had public schools, but also a Hebrew school, a shoḥet, and a Jewish community structure. Forty Jewish families (a total of 100 people) founded Lipton in 1901 with the help of ICA. They were taught by nearby Indians and Metis how to erect log houses chinked with clay and roofed with sod. In Lipton, too, Jewish teachers were engaged and a cemetery laid out. Edenbridge, also helped in its founding (1906) by ICA, was so named by its settlers. The name was conceived as "Yidn-Bridge" (Jews' Bridge), after a bridge across the Carrot River. The first settlers were 56 Lithuanian Jews who had lived in South Africa. Louis Vickar responded to an advertisement of the Canadian government offering 160 acres of virgin land for ten dollars. Edenbridge also had an active Jewish community. In the Sonnenfeld colony, which was aided in its founding (1906) by ICA, the villages of Oungre and Hoffer sprang up, the latter named after Moses Hoffer, the father of two brothers who were among the founders of the Sonnenfeld colony.

As was the case with others who settled in the west, many Jews did not succeed at farming, and left for the larger Jewish communities of western Canada. In addition to personal hardships, the great drought of the 1930s and the trend to mechanization and urbanization hastened the decline of Jewish farming. Of every 100 gainfully employed Jewish men in Saskatchewan in 1936, 11 were farmers and five were farm laborers. While the great majority of Jewish farmers in Canada in previous years were in Saskatchewan, since World War II the ICA devoted most of its efforts in Canada to Ontario, particularly the Niagara peninsula. The Jewish farm colonies are now mostly alive in memory alone. The Canadian government has placed the beautiful Beth Israel synagogue at Edenbridge on its national register of historic sites.

Regina, the capital of the province, had nine Jews in 1891, but the true beginnings of the present community would have to wait about 20 years. By the time of the 1911 census there were 130 residents. That year a shoḥet was hired, and services were held in his home. Two years later the members of the community erected a synagogue, Beth Jacob, with the lieutenant-governor of the province laying the cornerstone. In 1914 a building was rented to serve as a talmud torah, and 10 years later a building was erected to house it. In 1926 a central budgeting structure was created, and the Regina Federated Community was established. In 1951 the Beth Jacob Congregation built a new synagogue, with a new annex added four years later to house the school and the community center under one roof. At its height in 1931 there were just over 1,000 Jews. By 1951 the number had fallen to 740 and the 2001 census enumerated 720 Jews in Regina. In 2006 there were two synagogues in Regina. In addition to Beth Jacob, with its Conservative-style service, there was the Reform Temple Beth Tikvah, established in 1990. Because of the relatively high rate of interfaith marriages, some members of the community took the initiative to build a burial ground where Jewish and non-Jewish partners could lie next to each other, separated by a fence deemed halakhically acceptable. It opened in the summer of 2005.

The first known settlers of Saskatoon were William and Fanny Landa, who arrived in 1907 with their two children. The first minyan was on Rosh ha-Shanah in 1908. The members of the congregation Agudas Israel built a synagogue in 1912 and a new one was erected in 1919. In 1958 a Jewish community center was built that also served as a house of worship. Saskatoon had a Jewish mayor, Sydney Buckwold, for several terms. Agudas Israel became a Conservative congregation, and in March, 2000 Congregation Shir Chadash, also Conservative, was established. In 1911 the census counted 77 Jews. Since 1931 the number has hovered around 700 Jews, with as many as 793 Jews in 1961. The census of 2001 enumerated 700 Jews exactly, making it roughly the same size as Regina's community.

In addition to the settlements in the farm colonies and in the large urban centers, Jews settled in many of the small towns of rural Saskatchewan in the interwar period. In their time, Jewish general stores, like Chinese cafes, were part of small-town Saskatchewan. In the 1931 census there was at least one Jew in almost 200 cities, towns, villages or hamlets in the province. Sometimes Jews constituted a remarkably high percentage of the total population. Thus, for 1931, the demographer Louis Rosenberg noted that the "urban centre with the largest percentage of Jews in its population is not Montreal, Toronto, or some larger Eastern city, but is the little village of Lipton in Saskatchewan, where the Jewish population of 53 formed 15.01 % of its total population."

In 2002, the Jewish community of Saskatchewan was unexpectedly thrust into the national spotlight. In December of that year, David Ahenakew, former president of both the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and the Chief of the Canada-wide Assembly of First Nations, gave an interview to the Saskatoon StarPhoenix where he explained that the Holocaust was a way of getting over a "disease" and that without the Holocaust "Jews would have owned the goddamned world." Ahenakew was arrested for willfully promoting hatred in June 2003, and was convicted in July 2005. Within days of the conviction, Ahenakew's membership in the prestigious Order of Canada was revoked. As a result of this incident, there have been the attempts to create and strengthen relations between Jews and First Nations groups. The leaders of the organizations that Ahenakew had once dominated were quick to denounce his remarks. In 2003 leaders from the Aboriginal community went to the Yom ha-Shoah ceremonies in Saskatoon and attended a Friday night dinner, and members of the Jewish community participated in ceremonies led by First Nations groups. Canadian Jewish organizations have organized missions to Israel for aboriginal leaders, and have been conducting ongoing meetings.

The Jewish population of Saskatchewan, although quite diverse because of the relatively large rural presence of its past, has never been very large. In 1911 the census counted some 2,060 Jews. At its peak in 1931, there were only 5,047 recorded, and the numbers have been declining ever since. In 1951 there were 3,017, and over the next 10 years the numbers fell to 2,710. The 2001 census enumerated 2,090 Jews in the province. Although this downward trend seemed relentless, it was hoped that an improving economy in the province would attract more Jews in the coming years.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

L. Rosenberg, Canada's Jews (1939). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: G. Tulchinsky, Taking Root (1991); idem, Branching Out (1998); F. Curtis, Our Heritage: The History of the Regina and Region Jewish Community (1989); C. Golumb (ed.), Heritage & History: The Saskatoon Jewish Community (1998/9).

[Benjamin G. Kayfetz /

Richard Menkis (2nd ed.)]


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