History of the Jewish community of Quebec

In 1627, cardinal Richelieu, minister of the king of France, initiates a royal decree according to which Louis XIII bans all non-catholics from settling down in New France.

This edict aims at excluding the Jews and the Huguenots (Protestants) from colonization. Seventy years later, in 1695, Louis XIV, on recommendation of intendant Colbert, his financial counselor, confirms these restrictions and declare the Catholicism the only religion in the territory of France and its colonies. The Jews and the Huguenots (Protestants) are not allowed to enter New France anymore.

This situation only begins to change in the 18th century. The first Jew, Mme Esther Brandeau, arrives and settles in New France in 1738. In fact, this young woman was dressed up as a boy and introduced herself Jacques La Fargue. She was uncovered and invited to become converted to Catholicism. Mme Esther Brandeau refuses and she’s ordered to be deported.

She claims not having money to pay her trip back and, as the colony doesn’t want to create a precedent of paying the voyage with its resources, Esther Brandeau stays in Quebec for some time. Finally, she’s taken back to France at the expense of king Louis XIV. We don’t affirm that was the beginning of the Jewish community in New France, nevertheless, it was the first case. After the fall of the French government in New France there were still no representatives of Jewish community in Canada whereas there were 3 000 Jews among the British colonists in New England.

In 1763 Mr. Lazarus David and his wife Phoebe settle in Montreal and on October 14, 1764 was born David David, the first Jew to be born in the province of Quebec. Five years later, in 1768, the Jews of Spanish and Portuguese origin coming to Montreal founded the first synagogue in Canada. It was a Sephardi synagogue. On October 22, 1776, David Lazarus is buried in Montreal and the first Jewish cemetery in North America is open at the corner of Saint-Janvier street (now La Gauchetière street) and Saint-François-de-Sales street (now Peel street).

A year later the first synagogue opens in Quebec city at the corner of Saint-Jacques and Notre-Dame streets. From this moment, the Jews played an important role in the country. The first important appointment of a Jew to a public position post  was in 1790, when John Franks took responsibilities of the Chief of the Fire brigade of Quebec city.

This appointment was all the more important because of devastation caused by fires at the time when the majority of buildings were made of wood. In 1806 the number of Jews in Canada reaches 100 people and in 1807, Mr. Ezechiel Hart is elected deputy of Trois-Rivières in the Chamber of the Assembly of Lower Canada. However, he’s not authorized to sit in the Chamber of the Assembly because the Jews are not allowed to be elected deputies in the British Empire. Ezechiel Hart doesn’t give up and the citizens of Trois-Rivières re-elect him again! Nevertheless, the government persists in not recognizing his right to be a deputy. Only in 1832, at the suggestion of deputy John Neilson and with the backing of Louis-Joseph Papineau, the Jews were granted all the rights and privileges the citizens of Lower Canada had benefited from, including the right to sit as deputy.

One of the most famous Jews of Quebec was Mr. Moses Judah Hays (or Hayes), born in Montréal in 1789. He designs and builds aqueduct in Montréal in 1833 and also builds a spacious theater in 1848. In recognition of his continuous services to the municipality he was appointed Chief of Municipal Police in 1845. He assumed these responsibilities for 16 years until his decease in 1861. At the end of the 19th century, in1897, the Canadian Jewish Times, the first Jewish newspaper in English edited in Montreal by Hirsch Wolofsky, was published for the first time.

Ten years later, the first Jewish library in Canada opens in Montreal. In 1913, le Canada has 60 000 Jews. In 1934, the 250-bed Jewish General Hospital of Montreal opens at the corner of Côte-des-Neiges and Côte-Sainte-Catherine streets (this institution is open to all sick people regardless of their race, religion or origine).

During the World War II (1939-1945), 16 680 Canadian Jews served in the Canadian Armed Forces out of which 10 440 were in the land forces, 5 870 in aviation and 570 in the navy. 421 Jews perished in combat including 104 Jews from Quebec.

This is, in short, the history of the Jewish community in Quebec but it’s impossible to mention all the important facts of it in such a brief summary.

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