Jews have lived in Canada for more than 250 years, with the first recorded Jewish newcomer settling in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, in 1760. Most of the early Jewish families settled in Quebec, arriving mainly from Western and Central Europe. In 1832, 26 years before Great Britain, Quebec became the first jurisdiction in the British Empire to accord full rights to Jews.
Jewish immigrants came to Canada in far greater numbers between 1880 and 1920 arriving from Romania, Russia, Poland, Lithuania and other parts of Eastern Europe. The largest waves of immigration followed political turmoil in these countries, often accompanied by violent campaigns against Jewish citizens. Assisted by international charitable organizations, some of these new immigrants built new lives in Canada on farms in the West or in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains.
Over time, many Jews settled and established their businesses and institutions in major Canadian cities such as Toronto, Winnipeg and Montreal. In the cities, the Jewish population often began working as peddlers, later building their own small businesses. Many went into the textile industry.
By 1924, immigration restrictions made it more difficult for Jews to enter Canada, a situation that lasted until after World War II. Despite the efforts of Jewish agencies such as the Canadian Jewish Congress, few Jewish refugees were admitted to Canada during the Holocaust, a result of the infamous “none is too many” immigration policy for Jews. Between 1933 and 1948, only 5,000 Jewish refugees were admitted to Canada, the lowest number of any Western country.
When Canada finally opened its doors to post-War immigrants, thousands of Holocaust survivors, displaced from various European countries, came to settle in Canada. More than 12,000 settled in Montreal and approximately 8,000 in Toronto.
In the years that followed, arrivals of large groups of Jewish immigrants were usually tied to political conditions in their home countries. Many Hungarian Jews arrived after the 1956 revolution. Many Jewish refugees from Iraq and Egypt came to Canada during the 1950s, followed by a wave of Romanian Jews in the 1960s. Starting in the 1970s, Jews from the Soviet Union began to arrive, initially in small groups and often as a result of Canadian advocacy efforts.
The cultural and linguistic character of the Jewish community of Montreal started to change in the late 1960s with the influx of francophone Sephardic Jews from France and North Africa.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, immigration from North Africa, especially Morocco, became the predominant new Jewish immigrant group in Quebec, with their French-language background facilitating their successful integration into Québec society. This group now constitutes a sizeable proportion of Montreal’s Jewish population.
Political and economic factors have continued to influence trends in Jewish immigration to Canada in recent years. Since 1990, new immigrants from the countries of the former Soviet Union have significantly changed the face of the Canadian Jewish community.