A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History

OBSTACLES

Despite the fact that two Jewish men - one on the side of the French and the other Second in Command to General Wolfe - played key roles in the siege of Québec, until the British took control of Québec, Jews were not permitted to settle in New France.

One of the early Jewish settlers to Lower Canada was the Hart family. Aaron Hart was a staff member of the British General, Sir Jeffery Amherst, who marched into the City of Montréal in 1760. Hart would go on to single-handedly develop the fur trade at Three Rivers. He was so successful that he became the wealthiest man in the British Empire outside of Britain. In 1807, his son Ezekiel Hart was elected to the Assembly of Lower Canada. When the session opened Hart insisted on taking the oath on the Old Testament. For three weeks, chaos reigned in the Assembly as member after member stood to speak against Hart, claiming that a Jew did not have the right to sit as a Member of Parliament. It was said that Jews were waiting for the coming of the Messiah and therefore could not owe allegiance to an earthly Kingdom - they were a nation of wanderers and had no real home. The members voted 21 to 5 to expel Ezekiel Hart from the Assembly.

Hart ran and won a seat in the Legislature again, the following May, 1808. But anti-Jewish feeling remained and the members expelled him again. This time, the Assembly proposed a bill to disqualify Jews from sitting in Parliament under any circumstances. The Governor General, Sir Henry Craig, stepped into the dispute, just as the bill was about to pass. Bolstered by a petition from the Jewish community, he dissolved the Parliament.

The anti-Jewish feeling in Lower Canada remained for several years, so much so that Ezekiel Hart's political career was over. Remarkably, twenty years later in 1832, the same Assembly passed a Bill which became known as the "Jewish Magna Carta," to grant Jews the same rights and privileges as every one else. In passing this law, Canada became the first country in the British Empire to legally emancipate Jews. At the time of this Bill's passage, there were only 107 Jews in Canada.(10)

One of Canada's darkest hours occurred during this period when the luxury liner, the St. Louis, set sail from Hamburg, Germany on May 15, 1939. On board were 907 German Jews desperately seeking a new home because of the persecution against them in their country. The liner made a sad pilgrimage up the coast of North America seeking sanctuary. The St. Louis was turned away at each port of call including Canada. The Director of Immigration, F.C. Blair, stated that he was "emphatically opposed" to the admission of the St. Louis passengers. His great fear was this ship would be followed by many other shiploads of Jews. "No country" he added "could open its doors wide enough to take in the hundreds of thousands of Jewish people who want to leave Europe: the line must be drawn somewhere". (11)

The St Louis made its way back to Germany, with the fate of the 907 now in the hands of Adolph Hitler. Hitler was able to justify, in his own mind, his treatment of the Jews by the fact that no country would accept the Jewish passengers of the St. Louis.

Following World War II, Canada opened her doors to the "Displaced Persons" of Europe. It was then that 40,000 survivors made their way to Canada. Today, there is no discrimination against Jewish immigrants to Canada, but the spirit of the St. Louis remains a sad memory of the discrimination which Canadians are capable of.