The defining fact of Jewish life in the 1930s, as for all
Albertans, was the Great Depression. Of enormous concern to Jews,
however, were three interrelated issues: Zionism, Canadian
immigration, and the European situation.
Zionism addressed the 2,000-year-old dream of a Jewish homeland in
Palestine. Adverse conditions for Jews in Europe and Arab
hostility to the growing Jewish community in Palestine gave the
Zionist cause immediacy. Zionist speakers visited Edmonton and
Calgary throughout the 1920s and 1930s to build support and to
raise funds for the cause. Perhaps the most notable was Goldie
Meyerson (the future Golda Meir, Israeli prime minister from 1969
to 1974), who spoke in Calgary and Edmonton in 1936.
Efforts to bring European Jews to Alberta were halted in the 1930s
through the nation's new "closed-door" immigration
policy, which played to anti-Semitic feelings current in Canada.29
Jews became particularly concerned for their families in Europe
after Germany's Nazi government was formed in 1933. In at least
one case, Calgary's City Clerk appealed to the federal government
on behalf of Jewish families who wished to sponsor European
refugees. Immigration Branch director F.C. Blair, replied that
Canada was simply not taking in any Jews at that time. Still,
Alberta Jews did what they could. For example, to assist recent
arrivals, Jews in Calgary formed the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society
and the Polish Jewish Family Loan Association.
After the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, the proportion of
Jews who enlisted in Canada's armed forces went well beyond their
percentage of the total population.30 By the end of the war,
some two hundred Jewish men and women had enlisted in southern
Alberta alone. Among them were the four sons of Strathmore dairy
farmers Sam and Henya Hanson: Albert, who won the Military Cross
for valour and was later wounded in a mine-clearing explosion;
Hymie, an army pharmacist; Morris, who joined the Royal
Canadian Air Force; and Sam, a physician who tended injured
soldiers on the battlefields in Belgium. Another enlistee was
gunner Bob Satinovsky (later changed to Sattin), who signed up in
September 1939 and saw action in Belgium, France, the Netherlands,
and Germany. Following the war, Sattin became a veterans' advocate
and founded the Jewish War Veterans of Canada, Calgary Post. On
the home front, Jewish individuals and organizations purchased war
bonds and collected funds, clothing and food.
When the conflict ended in 1945, Alberta's Jews entered a changed
world. After decades of depression and war, an era of peace,
prosperity and the long-delayed joys of consumerism were about to
begin. Around the world, attitudes towards Jews changed with
awareness of the Holocaust and with the establishment of the
Jewish state of Israel in 1948. Overt anti-Semitism declined, but
did not disappear. With assistance from established local
communities, Holocaust survivors made new lives for themselves in
Edmonton and Calgary.
Since 1945, the Jewish populations of Calgary and Edmonton have
grown in number, cultural richness, confidence, and prosperity.
Urban Jews have contributed to the broader community in a variety
of spheres, including the arts, charitable works, education, and
politics. The names of institutions such as the Martha Cohen
Theatre, Jack Singer Concert Hall, Joe Shoctor Theatre, Tevie
Miller School, and Dr. Carl Safran Centre for Continuing Education
attest to the indelible stamp Jews have made in Calgary and
In the rest of the province it is a different story. In towns and
rural areas where Jews once lived and farmed in large numbers, few
if any remain. Both Calgary and Edmonton have had a magnetic
effect on Jews of smaller centres, offering economic
opportunities, upward mobility, proximity to family and to a
larger Jewish community. In towns and rural centres, Jewish
communities fell below the threshold population needed to
The only manifestation of a quarter-century of Jewish life in
Rumsey and Trochu is the former synagogue, now the residence of
one of Elias Sengaus' grandsons. The Jewish population of small
cities has also declined sharply. In Medicine Hat, where a Jewish
resident, Harry Veiner, served as mayor for most of the years
between 1952 and 1974, the Sons of Abraham synagogue closed and
was eventually sold in 1999. Lethbridge, which once boasted
seventy Jewish families, has had no resident rabbi since the
1970s; the synagogue now operates only during the High Holidays of
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
If the editorial writer of 1892 could visit Alberta today, he
might claim that his observations were correct: as he predicted
more than a hundred years ago, Jews have become an urban people in
Alberta. During that century, however, generations of Jews were
adapted to agricultural and small town life in this province. That
their communities have all but vanished does not detract from their significance. Their existence will forever remain a fact of
This article was prepared through the sponsorship
of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta. The society
was formed in 1989 to recapture and publicize the memories and
records of Jews in southern Alberta. A corresponding Jewish
Archives & Historical Society of Edmonton and Northern Alberta
was established in 1996.
1 Calgary Tribune, 20 January 1892.
2 Edmonton House Journal, Hudson's Bay Company, 1869-70,
B.60/a/37. Provincial Archives of Alberta.
3 Hugh Dempsey, Historic Sites of Alberta. Edmonton:
Government of Alberta, 1963, 31.
4 L.V. Kelly, The Range Men. Toronto: Coles Publishing,
5 Diary of S.J. Clarke, Glenbow Archives.
6 Ibid., Calgary Herald, September 14, 1883.
7 Calgary Jewish News, centennial edition, 1975. The News'
source was Rabbi Arthur A. Chiel, Jewish Experience in Early
8 Cyril Edel Leonoff, The Jewish Farmers of Western Canada (The
Jewish Historical Society of British Columbia and Western States
Jewish Historical Association, 1984), 1.
9 Max Rubin, "Alberta's Jews: The Long Journey," in
Howard and Tamara Palmer, eds. Peoples of Alberta: Portraits of
Cultural Diversity (Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books,
10 Calgary Tribune, January 20, 1982.
11 This building, at 523 - 5 Avenue S.E., continued to function as
a synagogue until it was demolished in 1967.
12 Nanton News, May 11, 1911.
13 Rubin, 331.
14 Ibid., 332.
15 Ibid. 16 Edmonton Journal, undated clipping.
17 Rubin, 331.
18 Ibid., 331; Discovery: The Journal of the Jewish
Historical Society of Southern Alberta, Spring 1994; Howard
Palmer with Tamara Palmer, Alberta: A New History (Edmonton:
Hurtig Publishers Ltd., 1990), p.97.
19 Calgary Herald, September 3, 1967.
20 Census of Canada, 1931.
21 Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta, Land of
Promise: The Jewish Experience in Southern Alberta (Calgary: Jewish
Historical Society of Southern Alberta, 1996), 234.
22 Rubin, 334; Land of Promise, 236.
23 Edmonton Journal, undated clipping.
24 Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta (JHSSA) reference
files, "Medicine Hat."
25 Land of Promise, 228.
26 Rubin, 336: JHSSA reference files, "Lethbridge."
27 Land of Promise, 158.
28 Rubin, 342.
29 Ibid. 30 Land of Promise, 156.