ONTARIO, Canada's second largest province, a vast territory of more than one million square kilometers (415,000 square miles) – an area larger than France and Spain combined. It borders on Quebec to the east and Manitoba to the west, and to the south the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes form a water border with a series of neighboring northeastern American states running from New York to Minnesota. With a population of more than 12 million, Ontario is today home to about one in three Canadians. Largely English-speaking, 80 per cent of all those who live in Ontario live in urban centers, with the largest concentration in the "Golden Horseshoe" that arcs along the western end of Lake Ontario and includes the Greater *Toronto, Area Hamilton, St. Catharines, and Niagara Falls. About five million people live in the "Golden Horseshoe." In southwestern Ontario, significant populations live in Kitchener-Waterloo, London, and Windsor. In eastern Ontario, Ottawa and Kingston are the predominant cities. In more sparsely settled northern Ontario, smaller municipalities have grown at strategic points along the railway lines that opened up the vast wilderness to mining and logging. The cities that have evolved include Hearst, Moosonee, Kenora, Sudbury, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay, and Timmins.
Ontario's economy had its beginnings in exploitation of natural resources: fur, timber and minerals. The province's many rivers and lakes, particularly the Great Lakes, made for natural transportation routes. As the population of Ontario increased, people started new industries and surveyed, cleared
Today Ontario's Jewish population stands at about 212,000, almost 60 percent of all Jews in Canada. Nearly 180,000 of those Jews are concentrated in the greater Toronto area, which is rich in Jewish organizational and religious life. While there are about 25 centers that have synagogues, only *Ottawa, Canada's capital city, *Hamilton, London, Windsor, and Kingston have populations large enough to sustain local Jewish federations, with professional staff.
While Ontario was still a British colony, first called Upper Canada and then Canada West from 1841 to 1867, a tiny number of Jews was attracted by the colony's economic opportunities. Many of these Jews, mainly of English or German origin, were merchants or wholesalers involved in the import of manufactured goods. Some had kinship connections to Jewish merchant families in Montreal, New York, or London. But as the number of Jews in Ontario continued to grow slowly through the 1800s only a few Ontario communities had sufficient Jewish population to support synagogues or other Jewish institutions. By the mid-1800s, the largest Jewish community was in Toronto, where community members organized services in private homes or rented space until 1859 when the first Jewish congregation, Holy Blossom, was formed. However, 10 years earlier, in 1849, land was bought and a Jewish cemetery consecrated. The first burial took place in 1850.
After Canadian confederation in 1867, and with the surge of mass immigration of Yiddish-speaking East European Jews to North America starting in 1882, the Jewish population of Ontario began to grow more rapidly. Most new arrivals, looking for both economic opportunity and the comfort of a familiar Jewish community, settled in larger centers like Toronto and Hamilton. But here and there Jews also found their way into smaller towns and villages. By World War I, rare was the Ontario town of any size, even one in a more remote area of northern Ontario, that was not home to one or more Jewish families hoping to make a living as shopkeepers or peddlers or, in some cases, by trading with members of Canada's First Nations. Where numbers warranted, Jews in smaller communities organized synagogues – mostly Orthodox in liturgy – and religious schools for their children. In later years it was not uncommon to find active chapters of Hadassah, Young Judaea, and B'nai B'rith in smaller towns. Some small-town Jewish communities were able to employ rabbis who also often served as the communities' Jewish teachers, shoḥets and perhaps even mohels. Other communities got by without Jewish professionals, importing rabbis or mohels from far away as need arose.
In the years following World War II Jewish populations in smaller communities began to gradually decline as many younger and Canadian-born Jews began leaving, sometimes in search of better job prospects or university education or of Jewish marriage partners – and often all three – in larger centers. Once married and with university degrees and good jobs, many did not return to the smaller centers from which they came but remained in larger cities where, in an atmosphere of declining antisemitism and rising economic prosperity, the opportunities for a rich Jewish communal life were far greater than they had previously known. And as a younger generation of Jews from smaller communities relocated to larger cities, in many cases their parents followed. The result has been a gradual but steady decline in Jewish population in smaller Ontario centers and a rapid growth of urban Jewish population, especially in Toronto and, to a lesser extent, Ottawa.
But this exodus from small-town Ontario since the end of World War II has not been the only reason for the growing concentration of Ontario Jews in centers like Toronto and Ottawa. Two other factors have been at work: a shift in Jewish population from Montreal to Toronto and Jewish immigration to Canada collecting in Toronto. In the wake of a rise in separatist sentiment in Quebec through the 1960s and 1970s, and the first election of an avowed pro-separatist government in Quebec in 1976, fear that Quebec might eventually leave Canada grew among Montreal's overwhelmingly pro-federalist and English-speaking Jewish community. While this has not happened, by the late 1970s a migration of Jews out of Montreal, many to Ontario, and particularly to Toronto, Ottawa, and other larger Ontario cities was underway. As a consequence, Toronto has now replaced Montreal as Canada's largest Jewish center. In addition, since the end of World War II, Ontario and Toronto in particular have been magnets for immigration from around the world. This includes Jewish immigration. Toronto has absorbed more than half of all Jewish immigrants arriving in Canada – including, during the past several decades, new arrivals from the former Soviet Union, Israel, Europe, the United States, and, of late, Latin America.
The figures tell the tale. In 1931 approximately 70 percent of all Jews in Ontario lived in Toronto. By 1961 that number had grown to more than 80 percent. Today more than 85 percent of all Jews live in the greater Toronto area and the Jewish population of Toronto continues to grow both as a percentage of Ontario's Jewish population and in absolute numbers.
Jews and Provincial Politics
Jews have had an important stake in areas that are, in the Canadian federal system, under provincial jurisdiction, most notably in the areas of human rights legislation and education. Faced with a rising tide of antisemitism during the Depression
For all these successes, the organized Jewish community has experienced some frustrations in the arena of education, albeit for significantly different reasons. Arguing for the separation of religion and state, the organized Jewish community protested against the 1944 introduction of prayer and mandatory religious instruction into Ontario public schools. While they were eventually successful in winning exemptions for individual Jewish children who did not wish to receive religious instruction, and later won exemptions for schools in Jewish neighborhoods, it was not until Canada adopted a Charter of Rights and Freedoms with protection of religious freedom and equal treatment that the courts declared the 1944 legislation unconstitutional.
On another educational issue Jewish groups have remained unsuccessful in changing Ontario practice. With a major proportion of Jewish children in larger communities attending Jewish day schools, the organized Jewish community has lobbied the provincial government to deepen its involvement in religious matters by extending to Jewish schools the public funding that Catholic schools have enjoyed since the time of Confederation, which to this day remains protected by the British North America Act under which the Canadian federation was formed. However, neither Jewish political pressure nor resorting to the courts has yet led the provincial government to offer financial support for Jewish schools.
Jews in Ontario today participate in all areas of economic, cultural, and public life and by every measure public attitudes towards Jews in Ontario have, on balance, become far more positive during the past several decades. These positive attitudes are reflected in the makeup of the popularly elected Ontario Legislature. The first Jewish cabinet minister appointed by any Ontario government was Allan *Grossman, who was appointed minister of correctional services in the Ontario cabinet in 1970. Since then, all major parties have not only had Jews serve in the cabinet but have also chosen Jews to lead their parties. Today, the presence of Jews in provincial politics has become so widespread as to not draw attention.
G. Tulchinsky, Taking Root (1992); idem, Branching Out (1998).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.