A federation of provinces in British North America. The earliest authentic records of the Jews in Canada go back to the period when England and France were engaged in their final contest for the mastery of the northern part of the New World. While the batteries of Wolfe were thundering at the gates of Quebec, Amherst was closing in on Montreal with an army from the south. Among the members of his staff was Commissary Aaron Hart, an English Jew, born in London in 1724; andamong other Jewish officers of the invading hosts were Emanuel de Cordova, Hananiel Garcia, and Isaac Miranda. Hart was afterward attached to General Haldimand's command at Three Rivers, and at the close of the war settled in that city, and became seignior of Bécancour. About this time a number of Jewish settlers took up their residence in Montreal, including Lazarus David, Uriel Moresco, Samuel Jacobs, Simon Levy, Fernandez da Fonseca, Abraham Franks, Andrew Hays, Jacob de Maurera, Joseph Bindona, Levy Solomons, and Uriah Judah. Lazarus David was a large landowner, and was noted as a public-spirited citizen. Several of the others held offices in the army. There were also opulent and extensive traders among them; and altogether these early colonists were men of substance and strenuous character.

Synagogue Founded at Montreal.

Soon joined by other bands of settlers, the Jewish community of Montreal found itself strong enough to organize a congregation in 1768, called "Shearith Israel." As a large majority of the early members were descended from exiles from Spain, they adhered to the rites of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews; and the congregation has continued to flourish under its original name, tenaciously adhering to its historic ritual. Around this synagogue the main incidents of the history of the Jews of Canada centered for the major part of a century; for during many decades Shearith Israel remained the sole Jewish congregation in Canada. The first two scrolls of the Law were presented to it in 1768 by the Spanish and Portuguese Jews of London, and were at that date already accounted very old. These scrolls are still in use in the synagogue. At first the congregation met for worship in a hall in St. James street; but in 1777 the members built their first synagogue on a lot belonging to David David, at the junction of Notre Dame and St. James streets, close to the present court-house. See the David family.

In 1775 the congregation acquired land for a cemetery on St. Janvier street; and the first person interred was Lazarus David (referred to above), born in 1734, and died a year after the purchase of the ground. His remains were subsequently removed to the present cemetery on Mount Royal, when the old one was closed, together with the original tombstone, dated 1776, which still stands and marks the oldest Jewish grave in Canada.

The Rev. Jacob Raphael Cohen was the first regular minister of the Montreal Spanish and Portuguese Jews of whom there remains any record. He was their spiritual guide from 1778 to 1782.

The Franks Family.

The president (parnas) of the Montreal synagogue in 1775 was Jacob Salesby (or Salisbury) Franks, a relative of the Abraham Franks mentioned among the earliest settlers, who belonged to a family that played a most important part in those days in Jewish communal matters in Philadelphia, as well as in Montreal (see the Franks family). Other members of the Franks family remained in Canada, and supported the British in repelling Montgomery's invasion, notably Abraham Franks, Jacob Franks, Sr., and Jacob Franks, Jr., who were members of the junta of the Spanish and Portuguese congregation of Montreal, and who were prominent in public affairs. Abraham Franks, who was born in 1721 and died in 1797, had a daughter Rebekah, who in 1775 married Levy Solomons. The latter, whose name figures among the earliest Jewish settlers in Canada, was parnas of the Montreal synagogue in 1788; and it was during his presidency that a regular set of by-laws was drawn up. The executive was styled the "junta," and consisted of a "parnas" (president), "gabay" (treasurer), and three others. Executive privileges were also accorded to past officers who were "Gentlemen of the Mahamad."

When Montgomery invaded Canada in 1775 he commanded Levy Solomons to act as purveyor to the hospitals for the American troops. At that time Solomons was engaged in very extensive trade operations between Michilimackinac, Montreal, Albany, New York, and London. He carried out his contract with General Montgomery faithfully; but when the defeat and death of the latter at Quebec led to the retreat of the American forces from Montreal, General Arnold, as he retired, took possession of quantities of supplies stored at Lachine, belonging to Solomons, for the maintenance of his troops. The services which Solomons rendered the Revolutionary forces were never indemnified by them. At the same time he was exposed to the resentment of the British, as one suspected of sympathy for the revolted colonists. After having been expelled with his family from his home in Montreal by General Burgoyne, and after enduring much hardship, he eventually gained the indulgence of the Canadian governor, and was permitted to return in peace to Montreal.

Solomons had numerous offspring. His eldest daughter, Mary (Polly), who was born in 1776 and died in 1826, married Jacob Franks, Jr., a renowned Hudson's Bay trader, who was one of the first to penetrate to the remotest parts of the Canadian North-west. Another daughter, Rachel, married Henry Joseph of Berthier, the progenitor of a family distinguished in Canadian Jewish annals. Joseph's partner in Montreal was his brother-in-law, Benjamin Solomons, closely related to the Seixas and Nathan families of New York. His four sons, Jacob Henry, Abraham, Jesse, and Gershom, were prominent men of affairs and communal leaders. See the Joseph family.

The Struggle for Civil Rights.

In 1807 Ezekiel Hart, one of the sons of Commissary Aaron Hart, was elected to represent Three Rivers in the legislature. This at once raised the question of the civil status of the Jews in Canada, which till then had not been clearly defined. When the legislative chamber reassembled Jan. 29, 1808, Ezekiel Hart declined to be sworn in according to the usual form "on the true faith of a Christian," but took the oath according to Jewish custom on the Pentateuch, and with the head covered. At once a storm of opposition arose, due, it is said, not to religious prejudice or intolerance, but to the fact that his political opponents saw in this an opportunity of making a party gain by depriving an antagonist of his seat. Aftera heated debate it was decided to receive Hart's petition, in which he urged his right to take his seat, and claimed that his oath was in accord with the statute of 31st of George III. The chamber discussed the question in committee on Feb. 16 and 17, 1808; and on the nineteenth of the same month Hart was heard at the bar of the House. The next day the majority decided that he was not entitled to take his seat, and declared for his expulsion. The English minority vehemently protested against this; notably Richardson, who cited the statute of 13th George II., chap. vii., to show that Hart's expulsion was illegal. The British attorney-general was also quoted in support of this view of the question. Notwithstanding the adverse vote of the majority, Hart vigorously protested, and attempted to vote during several of the divisions; but he was again expelled. Having been again sustained by his constituents, the House proposed passing a bill to put his disqualification as a Jew beyond doubt. This roused the indignation of the governor, Sir James Craig, who was already in conflict with the Assembly; and, to put an end to their distasteful course, he dissolved the chamber before the bill could pass.

Years of agitation followed, and on Dec. 4, 1823, several Jews petitioned Parliament to authorize them to keep a register of births, marriages, and deaths. A bill in conformity with this petition was passed in 1829, and sanctioned by royal proclamation Jan. 13, 1831. Encouraged by this success, the Jews of Canada determined once more to try to secure recognition of their civil rights; and on Jan. 31 and Feb. 7, 1831, they sent an address, signed by Samuel Becancour Hart, to the legislature, petitioning to this effect. On March 16, 1831, a bill was introduced in the Legislative Assembly extending the same political rights to Jews as to Christians. Party passions no longer entered into the question; and the acrimony that had distinguished the debates of 1808 and 1809 had died out. The bill rapidly passed both the Assembly and the Council, and received the royal assent June 5, 1832. Since then Jews have sat in the Canadian Parliament, fulfilling their duties with credit and ability, the first to attain that distinction having been Mr. Nathan of British Columbia.

The Chenneville Street Synagogue.

The land on which the first synagogue had been erected in Montreal having reverted to the heirs of David David on his death in 1824, it became necessary to demolish the old building; and the congregation then met for worship in a hall adjoining the residence of Benjamin Hart, at the corner of Recollect and St. Helen streets, Montreal. For a while the affairs of the congregation remained in this unsettled condition; but in 1826 an appeal was issued urging the members to build a new synagogue to replace the former one, and also pointing to the necessity for reorganization. This appeal was signed by the president of the congregation, Benjamin Hart, one of the sons of Commissary Aaron Hart. His appeal had the desired effect: in 1835 a piece of land on Chenneville street was purchased; and there the Spanish and Portuguese Jews built their second synagogue, which they dedicated in 1838. The building was planned by Moses J. Hays, a nephew of David David, one of the trustees of the congregation, and in his day one of the most prominent citizens of the Canadian metropolis.

Early Rabbis.

After the retirement of the Rev. Jacob Raphael Cohen, the position of minister of the Shearith Israel congregation was occupied temporarily by Myer Levy, and afterward by Isaac Valentine. Dr. de La Motta also occasionally officiated. In 1840 the Rev. David Piza was appointed minister; and he held the office for six years.

In 1837-38 Canada was convulsed by the rebellion led by Papineau, Nelson, Brown, and Mackenzie; and among those who fought on the Loyalist side were several of the members of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue. Two members of the David family held important cavalry commands under Wetherell at the action at St. Charles, and took a distinguished part in the battle of St: Eustache. Aaron Phillip Hart, grandson of Commissary Hart, temporarily abandoned his large law practise to raise a company of militia, which rendered valuable service. Jacob Henry Joseph and his brother Jesse were with the troops on the Richelieu and at Chambly; the former being entrusted by Sir John Colborne, the Royalist commander, with the bearing of despatches to Colonel Wetherell. When the struggle had terminated and peace had been restored, it was recognized that the members of Shearith Israel had done well toward upholding the unity and the prestige of the empire of which they were citizens.

Dr. Abraham de Sola.

In 1846 the Rev. Abraham de Sola, LL.D., was elected rabbi of the Montreal Spanish and Portuguese synagogue. He held high rank among the Jewish leaders of his day. In addition to his ministerial duties he occupied the chair of Semitic languages and literature at McGill University, and was the author of many valuable works on theology, philology, and Jewish history.

Some Communal Workers.

During Dr. De Sola's pastorate a number of Montreal Israelites won distinction in public life, notably Dr. A. H. David, grandson of Lazarus David, who was dean of the faculty of medicine of Bishop's College; Samuel Benjamin, the first Jew elected to the Montreal city council; and Jesse Joseph, son of Henry Joseph of Berthier, one of Canada's merchant princes, who gained prominence as the organizer and director of many of the most important Canadian public companies and institutions. His brother Jacob was connected with the promotion of early Canadian railways and telegraph lines, and another brother, Gershom, was the first Hebrew lawyer appointed a queen's counsel in Canada. All these men were officers of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue, which also numbered among its active workers Goodman and William Benjamin, G. I. Ascher, and Jacob L. Samuel.

Up to the middle of the nineteenth century the Spanish and Portuguese Jews of Montreal maintained the only synagogue in Canada; but about the year 1845 a sufficient number of Jews had settled in Toronto to lead to the organization of a synagogue inthat city. Little, however, was accomplished until 1852, when a "bet ḥayyim" (cemetery) was purchased; and the Holy Blossom congregation was established. Mark Samuel, Lewis Samuel, and Alexander Miller did much to sustain the first Toronto congregation in its early struggles. Under the energetic presidency of Alfred D. Benjamin, during the closing years of the nineteenth century, it grew so greatly in strength and numbers that it became necessary to remove from its first building in Richmond street to its present (1902) commodious edifice in Bond street. The arrival of many Hebrew settlers has lately increased the number of Toronto's Jewish communal organizations; and, in addition to founding new congregations, the community has established excellent benevolent and literary societies.

Polish-Jewish Settlers.

In 1846 several Polish-Jewish families arrived in Montreal, and in the same year organized a synagogue, following the German and Polish, or Ashkenazic, customs. This led the Spanish and Portuguese Jews to seek and obtain (1846) a new act of incorporation from the legislature, the German and Polish congregation being incorporated by the same bill. The new congregation, however, was short-lived; for although the Sephardim aided their brethren with subscriptions and the loan of a scroll of the Law, the Montreal community was as yet too small to support two synagogues, and the first Ashkenazic congregation was in consequence dissolved soon after its formation. In 1858 a second effort was made to organize a German and Polish synagogue in Montreal, this time with success. Abraham Hoffnung, M. A. Ollendorf, and Solomon Silverman were among the most active of its charter members; and the Rev. Samuel Hoffnung was its earliest minister. He was soon succeeded by the Rev. Mr. Fass, who in turn was followed by other prominent ministers. The first building of this congregation was in St. Constant street, and was dedicated in 1860. Its corner-stone was laid by David Moss, who belonged to a family that was active in advancing the welfare of this congregation during three decades. The act of 1846 was first availed of; but in 1902 the congregation secured a separate act of incorporation. In 1886 they removed to their new edifice in McGill College avenue.

Meanwhile the Spanish and Portuguese congregation had been deprived by death of the services of Dr. Abraham de Sola (1882). He was succeeded by his eldest son, Rev. Meldola de Sola. As the Spanish and Portuguese congregation continued to grow during the latter's incumbency, a new synagogue was erected in Stanley street, where the congregation moved thence from Chenneville street in 1890. The new edifice was of Judæo-Egyptian architecture, and owed its design to Clarence I. de Sola, one of the sons of Dr. Abraham de Sola, who was honorary secretary of the building committee. In 1890 Shearith Israel secured a new act of incorporation from the legislature.

Jewish congregations were meanwhile springing up in other parts of Canada. The discovery of gold in British Columbia in 1857 led to the settlement there of a Hebrew colony, which built a synagogue in Victoria in 1862. In 1882 a synagogue was erected in Hamilton; and a couple of years later the Jews of Winnipeg organized two congregations. Halifax, St. John (New Brunswick), Ottawa, and London (Ontario) followed in the next decade. In Quebec, Israelites had settled soon after the British conquest, and a bet ḥayyim and a temporary synagogue were opened there as far back as 1853. But the Hebrew population of the ancient fortress city remained small for a long while, although attempts were made from time to time to organize. Abraham Joseph (born 1815; died 1886), a son of Henry Joseph of Berthier, was the most prominent of Quebec's Jewish citizens. He was identified with many of its most important commercial enterprises, and was at one time selected as candidate for the mayoralty.

The Russian Outbreaks of 1881.

The serious outrages against the Jews in Russia which began in 1881, and the persecutions and anti-Semitic outbreaks which followed in eastern Europe, caused the influx of a large number of Russian, Rumanian, Galician, and other Jewish immigrants into Canada during the two closing decades of the nineteenth century and the opening years of the twentieth. These, besides greatly swelling the population of the already established Jewish communities, formed new settlements in numerous towns and villages throughout the Dominion. Many of those who came in 1882 were assisted by the Mansion House committee of London and by a committee of Montreal Jews that had been formed through the initiative of the Montreal branch of the Anglo-Jewish Association. A citizens' committee, organized by Christian sympathizers in Montreal, of which the Anglican bishop was chairman, raised a substantial fund in aid of these victims of persecution. Some of the settlers founded agricultural colonies in the Canadian Northwest. The earliest of these was established near Moosomin in 1884 by the Mansion House committee. The experiment of making agriculturists of men who had received little and in many cases no previous training in husbandry was beset with difficulties; and the results were at first discouraging. But obstacles were gradually overcome, and the present (1902) agricultural colonies in Assiniboia, at Hirsch, Oxbow, and Wapella, seem assured of success.

Agricultural Colonies.

The establishment of these colonies was mainly due to the munificence of Baron de Hirsch, who in 1892 and succeeding years largely subsidized them; and after his death the Jewish Colonization Association continued to grant them financial aid. Baron de Hirsch's benefactions were also extended to Jewish immigrants in Canada in many other ways. He gave large sums to the Young Men's Hebrew Benevolent Society of Montreal, for the purpose of aiding and educating Jewish immigrants; and for a while that society was delegated by him and his executors to supervise the North-west agricultural colonies. This duty is, however, now performed by a resident agent acting under the direction of the Paris committee of the Jewish Colonization Association.

The Young Men's Hebrew Benevolent Society of Montreal, which thus became so closely connected with Baron de Hirsch's work in Canada, was foundedin 1863 through the efforts of Lawrence L. Levey (its first president), Isidore G. Ascher, Tucker David, Charles Levey, M. Gutman, Lawrence Cohen, Samuel Moss, Moise Schwob, and others; and among its presidents have been Jacob L. Samuel, Jacob G. Ascher, Lyon Silverman, Lewis A. Hart, Harris Vineberg, and D. A. Ansell. The large sums received by the society from Baron and Baroness de Hirsch induced its members to secure an amended act of incorporation in 1900; and its name was at the same time changed to "The Baron de Hirsch Institute and Hebrew Benevolent Society of Montreal." In addition to succoring the poor and aiding immigrants, it maintains a day-school.

The Jews of Montreal have greatly increased in population in recent years; and in 1902 they possessed nine synagogues (eight Orthodox and one Reform) and numerous communal societies and institutions, as well as a journal, "The Jewish Times." New congregations in other towns of Canada are also being founded from time to time.


The rise of Zionism in 1897 created much enthusiasm among the Jews of Canada; and in a remarkably short time societies in support of the movement were established in many centers. The first of these associations was organized at Montreal in Jan., 1898; and in rapid succession similar societies were established at Toronto, Winnipeg, Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Kingston, St. John, Glace Bay, Brandon, and Vancouver. Clarence I. de Sola, Joseph S. Leo, Leon Goldman, Rev. A. Ashinsky, Dr. D. A. Hart, J. Cohen, I. Rubenstein, H. Bernstein, Rev. M. de Sola, L. Cohen, and M. Shapira were among the earliest Canadian promoters of the movement. In 1899 all the Zionist societies in British North America were united under the control of the Federation of Zionist Societies of Canada. Clarence I. de Sola was elected first president of the Federation; and he represented Canada at the International Zionist Congress held in London in 1900, where he was elected member of the Actions committee, the central governing body. The Jewish Colonial Trust and the National Fund count numerous shareholders in Canada; and Zionist organizations now exist in nearly every important town in the Dominion.

During the South African war, 1899-1902, several Canadian Jews enlisted in the British army and took part in many of the battles against the Boers.


The census of 1901 gave the total Jewish population of Canada as 16,060, divided among the provinces as follows: British Columbia, 543; Manitoba, 1,514; New Brunswick, 376; Nova Scotia, 437; Ontario, 5,329; Prince Edward Island, 17; Quebec, 7,575; Northwest Territories, 215; Yukon, 54. The three largest cities, according to the same census, show the following Jewish population: Montreal, 6,790; Toronto, 3,090; Winnipeg, 1,156; adding the large number of immigrants who arrived from Rumania, Galicia, and Russia in 1901 and 1902, after the taking of the census, and adding also the many who were unenumerated in the religious census, it would seem that the Jewish population of Canada may now (1902) be estimated at from 20,000 to 25,000, of whom at least 10,000 reside in Montreal and its environs.

  • Clarence I. de Sola, The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, and other historical and biographical sketches, in J. D. Borthwick's History and Biographical Gazetteer of Montreal, Montreal, 1892;
  • idem, in Montreal Star, Dec. 30, 1893;
  • Joseph Tasse, Droits Politiques des Juifs en Canada, in La Revue Canadienne, Montreal, June, 1870;
  • Robert Christie, History of the Late Province of Lower Canada, Quebec, 1850;
  • Journaux de la Chambre d'Assemblée du Bas Canada;
  • Statutes of Lower Canada;
  • John McMullen, History of Canada, Brockville, 1855;
  • Papers of the Continental Congress;
  • H. S. Morais, Eminent Israelites of the Nineteenth Century, Philadelphia, 1880;
  • Jacques J. Lyons and Abraham de Sola, Montreal, in Jewish Calendar, 1854;
  • Minutes of the Corporation of Spanish and Portuguese Jews, Shearith Israel, Montreal;
  • Correspondence of the Corporation of Spanish and Portuguese, Jews, Montreal;
  • records of the Hart, David, Joseph, and De Sola families;
  • diary of Samuel David.
A. C. I. de S.