A History of Antisemitism in Canada

By Dinnerstein, Leonard | American Jewish History, April 2017 | Go to article overview

A History of Antisemitism in Canada


Dinnerstein, Leonard, American Jewish History


A History of Antisemitism in Canada. By Ira Robinson. Ontario: Wilfred Laurier University Press, xiii + 287 pp.

Until now a comprehensive study of antisemitism in Canada had not been written. Ira Robinson has filled this void with a survey that covers the subject from its beginnings in Christian Europe until the present day. The experiences of Jews in Canada, similar to those in much of the Christian world, mixes a long history of persecution with varying degrees of acceptance at different times in history. Since the end of World War II, significant changes in laws and societal attitudes in Canada have resulted in greater tolerance and legal protections for minorities. Despite the new atmosphere and opportunities, pockets of antisemitic fervor still exist and are mostly seen in attacks on Zionism and Israeli policies towards Arabs in their midst.

Currently, the Canadian population exceeds 3 5 million; Jews constitute somewhere between 1 and 2 percent of that total. The first Jews arrived in the middle of the eighteenth century. In 1831 they totaled 107 persons in all of Canada. Eighty years later their numbers had increased to only 16,401 or 0.31% of the population. Historian Irving Abella observed, "if there was a golden age of Canadian Jewry, one could make a strong case for the period before Confederation, particularly the 1830s and 1840s" (22). Ninety percent of these Jews came from Great Britain. By the 1890s, most of the new immigrant Jews hailed from the Yiddish-speaking areas of Eastern Europe, especially Russia and Poland. That wave ended by the late 1920s; not until 1948 did new legislation pass allowing the displaced persons who survived World War II to enter Canada. About one quarter of today's Canadian Jewish population traces its origins to this last group.

Antisemitism in Canada paralleled its development and manifestations in the United States. The mass migration that began in the late nineteenth century continued in both countries through much of the 1920S, and antisemitic attitudes and behavior intensified as the decades advanced, peaking in the middle of the 1940s. Jews settled mostly in urban areas in and around Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg. The Canadian parliament granted Jews some civil and legal rights. Nevertheless wherever they went, they were shunned socially, discriminated against in education and employment, and viewed as pariahs willing to do anything to make money. …

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