Jews


JEWS have been living in BC since the beginning of non-aboriginal settlement. During the 1858 GOLD RUSH, many Jews arrived from California while others came from Australia, Great Britain and Europe. Some worked as miners; others established themselves as traders, merchants and wholesalers. Most of these newcomers settled in VICTORIA; within 5 years there was a community of about 100 Jews there. In 1860 they opened BC's first Jewish cemetery and in 1863 they built CONGREGATION EMANUEL TEMPLE, the oldest surviving synagogue in Canada. Selim Franklin became the first Jew elected to political office in Canada when he became a member of BC's LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY in 1860. The first Jew in the House of Commons was another British Columbian, Henry Nathan, elected in Victoria in 1871. NANAIMO, PRINCE RUPERT, ROSSLAND, TRAIL and PRINCE GEORGE soon had small Jewish communities and Jewish business people played leading roles in many of the province's early economic ventures, including the Union Brewery in Nanaimo, BRITANNIA MINES on HOWE SOUND and the SMELTER at Trail. David OPPENHEIMER, a Jew of German descent, was known as the "father of VANCOUVER" because of his involvement in so many civic projects; he was the city's second mayor. Vancouver became the centre of BC's Jewish population when a wave of East European Jews settled in the city between 1880 and the early 1920s. By the outbreak of WWI the community was large enough to support a synagogue, a cultural society and a business association. Vancouver's Jewish population almost doubled during the 1920s, though the Depression and WWII brought a halt to immigration from Europe. Following the war the Canadian Jewish Congress lobbied persistently for the liberalization of Canadian immigration laws; as a result a large number of Holocaust survivors settled in Canada. About 400 moved to Vancouver and assumed influential roles in the local community. Since WWII the city's Jewish population has grown sharply, doubling about every decade. Numbering some 20,000, Vancouver's Jewish community is the third largest in Canada (after Toronto and Montreal) and the Lower Mainland is home to 95% of the provincial Jewish population (21,230 in 2001). The community has produced many prominent citizens, including Justice Samuel Davies Schultz, Canada's first Jewish judge, Dave BARRETT, the first Jewish premier in the country, and Nathaniel NEMETZ, BC chief justice from 1978 to 1988. There are many Jewish organizations in Vancouver and Victoria, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and the Jewish Historical Society of BC. In 1994 the community opened a Holocaust Education Centre in Vancouver. See chart.
by Dianne Mackay
Reading: Cyril Leonoff, Pioneers, Pedlars and Prayer Shawls: The Jewish Communities in BC and the Yukon, 1978.