Jewish Immigration to Alberta
For the purposes of this article, any immigrant to Alberta of the Jewish faith has been included. The article could not be separated into different groups of Jews.
Many Jews immigrated to Canada in the 1880s. The increase in anti-Semitic pogroms (organized, often officially encouraged massacre or persecution of a minority group, especially Jews), discrimination, and persecution in Eastern Europe coincided with the Canadian government’s desire to increase immigration to the prairies. Agencies set up by wealthy Western European Jews worked together with the Canadian government to bring persecuted Jews to Canada. These Jews established farm colonies in central and south Alberta in places such as Trochu, Medicine Hat, and Pine Lake.
Many of the new immigrant Jews were from urban areas and were unprepared for the difficulties presented by Alberta farming. Even with the support of the European agencies, most Jews left the farming communities. Some left Canada all together, while others moved to the urban areas of Calgary, Edmonton, and Lethbridge. Jewish immigrants at this time also found work as part of Canadian Pacific Railway construction crews. They worked under a Yiddish-speaking foreman and were allowed to keep their traditions of eating kosher food and keeping their Saturday Sabbath.
The Diamond brothers, Jacob, William, and Phillip, played an important part in the development of the Jewish communities of Calgary, Edmonton, and Canmore, respectively. They became successful merchants and organized the first High Holy Day service in Alberta.
In 1906, Calgary and Edmonton had small but thriving Jewish communities. That same year, Hyman Goldstick was invited to come to Alberta from Toronto and became the province’s first full-time Jewish spiritual leader. Synagogues were built in Edmonton and Calgary, and schools were set up to teach children about the Jewish faith and customs.
Although the Jews did not suffer the extreme anti-Semitism as they had in Eastern Europe, many Albertans held anti-Semitic views. At this time, the work week was from Monday to Saturday. As a result, because they could not work on Saturday, their Sabbath Day, many Jews had difficulty finding an employer to hire them. Consequently, many Jews started their own businesses — primarily in the retail and wholesale trade. However, unlike schools in the rest of Canada, schools in Alberta did not impose enrolment quotas on Jewish students.
Albertan Jews fully supported the World War I effort. Many fought overseas or became nurses. Jewish families at home in Alberta were involved in war relief and, after the war, in helping Eastern European Jewish families immigrate to Canada. The war left Europe’s economy in poor condition, and many people in Eastern Europe began blaming the Jews for their economic troubles. Anti-Semitism intensified even more, and many Jews emigrated. Between 1921 and 1931, Alberta’s Jewish population increased by nearly 15 percent from 3,242 to 3,722.
Once the Great Depression hit and Canada entered into its own period of economic recession, immigration was closed down and few, if any, Jews were allowed to immigrate.
As in World War I, Albertan Jews were active in World War II. They fought overseas, bought war bonds, sent aid, and attempted to adopt Jewish refugee children. The end of the war and the Holocaust led to an influx of Jewish immigrants to Alberta. In the 1970s, Alberta experienced another surge of Jewish immigration: this time, Jews were coming from Israel. These new groups of immigrants often felt that they did not have much in common with the third-generation Canadian Jews, in spite of the fact that the already established Jewish community was supportive of them. Jews escaping the harsh policies and poor economic situation of the old Soviet Union, or Russia, have also immigrated to Alberta.
After World War II, as Jewish people became economically successful, they moved to more affluent areas such as Glenora in Edmonton and Britannia in Calgary. Since 1971, more than one third of the Jews in Alberta have worked in managerial or higher professions — significantly more than in most other ethnic groups. Many of these Jews have been very successful in commerce. Albertans of Jewish heritage have also held important positions as university presidents, vice-presidents, and deans. As of the 2001 census, there were 11,085 people of Jewish faith in Alberta.
Palmer, Howard and Tamara. Peoples of Alberta: Portraits of Cultural Diversity. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1985.