A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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Immigration History

The first Jews immigrated to Canada in the 1750's. They too had to compromise their Jewish identity in order to gain entrance into the New World. Canada was under rule of the French colonizers. So Jews, and in fact all non-Catholics, were prohibited from settling. Some Jews side-stepped these restrictions by converting to Catholicism(4).

The Gradis family of New France was among the most notable of early Jewish settlers. Historians believe that this Jewish family played a pivotal role in sustaining the colony before it was conquered by the British. The Gradis family had a fleet of ships that went back and forth to France, providing food, supplies and munitions that kept the settlers armed and fed during their fight to defend the colony(5).

But Jewish political allegiances were as varied as anyone else's. While the Gradis family supported the French, a Jewish man by the name of Alexander Shomberg was a commander in the invading British navy. Of course, Schomberg's Jewishness would have been kept secret - only Christians were allowed to serve in the British navy. Schomberg's frigate, Diana, took part in the attack on Quebec that led the battle on the Plains of Abraham, where the French colony fell to British control(6).

The first significant wave of Jewish immigrants to make Canada their home arrived with General Jeffery Amherst in 1760. Most of these Jewish settlers emigrated from the United States and settled in urban centres, the majority in Montreal. The 1831 census recorded 197 Jewish residents in Upper and Lower Canada. By 1851 the number had increased to 451. Most were middle class and well educated; they were involved in trade and contributed to the economic growth of the country(7).

From 1850 to 1900 Jewish immigrants came mostly from Europe(8). During this period approximately 15,000 Jewish immigrants arrived in Canada. The Shumiatcher family, when they came to Canada in 1909, were part of a wave of 120,000 Jews that came from Eastern Europe between 1900 and 1920. Those who came between 1920 and 1940 numbered 60,000 and from WWII to the 1980's, 135,000. The origin of Jewish immigrants at this time was predominantly the United States, North Africa and the Middle East(9).

According to 1991 Census, the Canadian Jewish population today is estimated at 356,000. The largest Jewish populations exist in Toronto, with 162,000, Montreal with 98,000, Vancouver, with 25,000. Jewish immigration to Canada continues: 30,000 Jews entered Canada from 1981 to 1991(10).

4,5,6 - A Coat of Many Colours, Two Centuries of Jewish Life in Canada, by Irving Abella(Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys Limited, 1990).

7,8 - The Canadian Encyclopedia, James H. Marsh, ed.(Edmonton: Hertig Publishers, 1988)

9,10 - The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia(Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1998).

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