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.