Quebec is Canada's second largest province and the only one of Canada's provinces with a French-speaking majority. It is home to Canada's longest-established Jewish community. In 2013, it has a Jewish population of approximately 91,000, making it the second largest Jewish community in the country.
- Early History
- Growing Montreal Community
- Under Separtist Government
The first European to reach the Canadian territory
was Jacques Cartier, a French explorer who sailed to Quebec in 1535.
Subsequently, in 1608, the land became a French colony, was named
"New France," and was settled by
strict Roman Catholics, who by order of Cardinal Richilieu's decree
of 1627 prohibited non-Catholics from settling in any part of the colony.
The first Jewish settler to live in Quebec was Aaron Hart, a commissary offer with the British Army who came to Canada during the French and Indian War. Hart served under General Amherst during the British
attack on Montreal in 1760 and after Montreal was lost to the British in September 1760, and
all of New France surrendered under the Treaty of Paris in 1763, a number
of Jewish officers and soldiers, including Hart, remained in Quebec. They settled there
as merchants and fur traders and were soon joined by relatives from England and the Thirteen
In December 1768, under the new British rule, twelve
families from New York moved to Montreal. Berlin-born army purveyor
and later fur trader, Ezekiel Solomon, along with Hart, founded Canada's
first synagogue, Shearith Israel Congregation, known as the Spanish
and Portuguese Synagogue. It followed the same Sephardic tradition as the synagogue the settlers had attended in New York, although all the founding members
were Ashkenazi Jews of
Dutch, British, and German origin. The first synagogue building was
built in 1777, and Jacob Raphael Cohen of London became its first rabbi
in 1778. It was not until 1846 that Montreal's second congregation and
the first Ashkenazic synagogue in British North America was established.
The Synagogue of English, German, and Polish Jews was finally able to
construct a synagogue in 1858 and was renamed Shaar Hashamayim.
the America Revolution from 1775 to 1781, the majority of Jews living
in Quebec took the side of the British in the conflict, despite family
connections in the colonies. In 1807, Ezekiel Hart, the son of Aaron
Hart, was elected to the legislature of Lower Canada, but was unable
to assume office as he refused to be sworn in "on the true faith
of a Christian." It was not until 1831, upon request of the Jewish
population of Montreal, which numbered 107, that the Jewish community
received legal recognition from the Legislative Assembly of Quebec.
Under the act, the Jewish communities of Montreal, Quebec, and Trois
Rivieres were allowed to own land slated for the construction of a synagogue
and cemetery. On June 5, 1832, Canadian Jews gained full rights as British
subjects, including the right to sit in Parliament and hold public office.
Growing Montreal Community
By 1861, the Jewish population of Montreal stood at
an estimated 400 persons and, by 1900, had swelled to 7,000. At the
turn of the century, the community continued to expand due to the influx
of large numbers of Eastern European Jews fleeing Czarist pogroms and persecution in Romania,
combined with the United States' new restrictive immigration quotas.
During the nineteenth century, the small Jewish community of Lower Canada
had integrated itself into the rest of Canadian society. But the new
waves of immigrants from Eastern Europe were more "ethnically"
Jewish and created their own institutions and communities with less
focus on involvement with the surrounding population.
During the 1930s, thousands of Eastern European Jews
sought refuge in Canada but were refused entry. Immigration was curtailed
through legislation, restrictions in the total number of immigrants
admitted into the country, and financial and other requirements for
admittance. Prime Minister W. L.
Mackenzie King was sympathetic to the plight of the Jews but was
constrained by widespread opposition to immigration of any kind. In
the face of such resistance, the Canadian immigration policy remained
By the 1940s, there were 80,000 Jews living in Montreal,
most of whom worked in factories or owned small family businesses. The
arrival of post World War II refugees expanded the Jewish community further. In the late 1950s, 20,000
French-speaking Jews arrived from Morocco and other North African countries, bringing their Sephardic culture
and traditions to a primarily Ashkenazic community. By 1970, the Jewish
population of Montreal numbered approximately 120,000.
Under Separatist Government
The rise of Quebec's separatist
movement and French language regulations
in the 1970s prompted the predominantly English-speaking
Jews to relocate to other English-speaking
regions of Canada. When the Parti Quebecois
won the provincial election in 1976, approximately
20,000 to 30,000 Jews, particularly young
adults, left Quebec. The Jewish population
feared an independent Quebec would economically
and geographically uproot a large number
of the 100,000 Jews in Montreal and would
divide and weaken the national Jewish community.
Due to this mass migration, the 1980's saw
Toronto assuming Montreal's position as having
the largest Jewish community. After the Liberal
Party regained power in 1985, and a nationwide
economic recession lessened the appeal of
the rest of Canada, the Jewish population
of Quebec leveled out slightly, but Montreal
never regained its former status as the center
of Canadian Jewish activity.
Until 1998, Quebec
lacked a nondenominational public school system. Catholic schools only
admitted Catholics, so Jewish students were forced to attend Protestant
schools. Today, around 55 percent of Jewish children attend the twenty-two
Jewish day schools in the province. This is by far the highest percentage
in North America. In addition, a network of Jewish public libraries
was established to serve the Jewish communities, as Quebec did not have
its own public library system until recently. The Montreal community
boasts a B'nai Brith Youth Organization, the Canadian Zionist Federation,
the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Foundation for Yiddish Culture, singles
groups, and a genealogical society. However, the prosperity of the community
will depend on political developments over the next few years.
As of 2013, Montreal's Jewish population is approximately
88,500 as recorded in the 2011 Canadian census, known as the National Household Survey. It is the most Orthodox of North American Jewish communities, explained by Quebec's French Catholic
heritage and its emphasis on religion in society.
In 2013, the Parti Quebecois’ proposed the passing of the "Charter of Quebec Values," a measure aimed at instituting religious neutrality in public by banning “overt and conspicuous” religious headwear - including turbans, hijabs and yarmulkes - as well as large crosses and crucifixes. Blasted across Canada as xenophobic, discriminatory and unconstitutional, the charter has evoked an uproar in Quebec. In September 2013, thousands of kippah-clad Jews joined Muslims, Sikhs and Christians in a protest march against the proposed legislation.
Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group.
All Rights Reserved;
The History of the Jewish People by Eli Birnbaum;
Canadian Jewish Virtual Museum and Archives;
University of Calgary: Peopling North America;
Citizenship and Immigration Canada;
Israelowitz, Oscar. Canada Jewish Travel Guide, Israelowitz Publishing. Brooklyn, NY: 1992;
Tigay, Alan M. (ed.) The Jewish Traveler, Hadassah Magazine (Northvale, New Jersey: 1994);
Renata Polt, The Jewish Traveler: Montreal, Hadassah Magazine (May 2005), 46-52;
Photo Credits: Hart photo from Wikipedia;
Congregation Shaar Hashamayim;
JTA (October 8, 2013)