Canada’s Jewish community dates back to the 18th century, and antisemitism in Canada has confronted the nation's Jews since this time.[1][2]

On March 14, 1938, Dr. H. U. Granow, the German consul-general in Ottawa, wrote to the Department of External Affairs for laws that would require “race or colour” to become a factor of legal consequence, pertaining to laws that govern issues such as the exercise of civil and political rights, marriage, sexual relations, professions, school and university acceptances, and immigration.

During the 1930s and 1940s, several societal models reflected this anti-Semitism: In British Columbia and Saskatchewan, several laws denied voting rights on the ground of race in provincial and federal elections. Those disqualified from the vote were also forced to abstain from jury duty, public office and volunteering in war.

Between 1930 and 1939, Canada almost completely rejected all Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe, receiving only 4,000 of the 800,000 total Jews looking for refuge across the globe. For example, the SS St. Louis sailed out of Hamburg into the Atlantic Ocean in May 1939, carrying 936 Jewish refugees seeking asylum from Nazi persecution. Because Jewish immigration was contrary to public policy in Canada at the time, the passengers were denied entrance to Canada. A 1943 Gallup poll put Jews in third place, below the Japanese and Germans, as the most undesirable immigrants to Canada.[3]

The Great Depression encouraged a search for scapegoats amongst “foreigners,” including Canadian-born Jews, and the rise of Hitler in Germany, along with international anti-semitic propaganda, justified prejudiced and exclusionary practices against Jews in Canada.

Several outbreaks of violence against Jews and Jewish property culminated in 1933 with the Christie Pits riots; six hours of violent conflict between Jewish and Christian youths in Toronto, Ontario. Local synagogues were set ablaze, and swastikas and Nazi slogans began to crop up on Toronto’s eastern beaches, where Jewish bathers were also attacked.

In 1934, Adrien Arcand started the ‘Parti national social chrétien’ in Montreal, patterned after the Nazi party. His party’s actions brought about anti-Semitic rallies, boycotts, propaganda and literature, which lead to the inception of several other Nazi-like organizations throughout Canada. In 1938, the National Fascism Convention was held in Toronto's Massey Hall, showing Canada’s complete passivity about the domestic spread of fascism and propaganda.[3]

The outbreak of World War II saw even more anti-Semitic practices put into place. Units in the Canadian Forces rejected Jewish volunteers, and the Canadian National Selective Service discriminated against Jews when assigning workers to munitions factories. A post-War Gallup poll placed Jews second, behind the Japanese, on the list of most undesirable immigrants.

Throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s, employment discrimination against Jews in Canada was rampant. During this time, there were racial prohibitions that stopped Jews from becoming lawyers, pharmacists, miners, loggers, or fishermen, and denied them minimum wage rights and welfare benefits. Typical employment applications asked for racial origin and religion, and if a Jew was inadvertently hired by misrepresentation, he or she could be fired. There were few to none Jewish teachers, professors, architects, principals, engineers or accountants. Many institutions maintained quotas on how many Jews they would hire, or hired none at all (such as the City of Toronto, who refused to hire Jewish police officers and transit workers). Often owners and managers tried to deflect them by putting up signs with slogans such as “Gentiles Only,” or “No Jews or Dogs Allowed.”

A 1948 article on anti-Semitism in Canada, written for MacLean’s magazine by Pierre Berton, illustrates this racism: Berton hired two young women to apply for several of the same jobs, one under the name Greenberg, and the other under the name Grimes. While Grimes received interviews for nearly every application, positions that were available for Grimes were “already filled” when Greenberg applied for them, or Greenberg’s applications were simply never answered. When Berton contacted several of these companies, he was told, “Jews did not have the right temperament,” that “they don’t know their place” or that “we don’t employ Jews.”[3]

Universities and professional schools also set quotas on Jewish enrolment or refused Jewish students completely. For example, the Toronto General Hospital accepted only one Jewish internship per year.

Clubs and resorts in Canada also denied Jews access with their “exclusive clientele” policies. The St. Andrews Golf Club in Toronto sported a sign that said, “This course is restricted to Gentiles only. Please do not question this policy.” A Montreal resort boasted a sign that read “Christians Only,” but also employed someone who “walked along the beach with a megaphone, politely inquiring whether there was a Jew present despite the warning, and asking him to leave as quickly as possible.”

Berton, during his research on Canadian anti-Semitism, sent two letters to each of 29 summer resorts, one under the name of Marshall, and one under the name of Rosenberg. “Marshall” received twice as many reservations as “Rosenberg,” including at some resorts who told “Rosenberg” they were full, or who did not reply to him at all.

Anti-Semitic residential separation was also prevalent during the 1930’s and 1940’s, and was done through racial restrictive covenants. These either involved agreements among owners of neighbouring properties to not sell or rent their houses to members of certain races, or were clauses placed in deeds by land developers that restricted ownership according to racial origin. Once instituted, both types of covenants were legally registered and could be enforced by the courts.[3]


  1. Manuel Prutschi, "Anti-Semitism in Canada", Fall 2004. Accessed March 29, 2008.
  2. Dr. Karen Mock, "Hate Propaganda and Anti-Semitism: Canadian Realities", April 9, 1996. Accessed March 29, 2008.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Adelman, Howard and John H. Simpson, eds. Multiculturalism, Jews and Identities in Canada. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1996.

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