Search for "Jewish Canadians"

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Jewish Canadians

Unlike most immigrants to Canada, Jews did not come from a place where they were the majority cultural group. Jews were internationally dispersed at the time of the ancient Roman Empire and after unsuccessful revolts against it lost their sovereignty in their ancient homeland. In the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), 329,495 Canadians identified as Jewish when responding to the census question on religion, and 309,650 identified as being of Jewish ethnic origin (115,640 single and 194,010 multiple responses).

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Annamie Paul

Annamie Paul, leader of the Green Party of Canada 2020–present, lawyer, activist (born 3 November 1972 in Toronto ON). Annamie Paul has worked as an advisor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague and with various international organizations devoted to preserving human rights and fighting climate change. In 2020, she was elected as the leader of the Green Party of Canada. She became the first Black Canadian and the first Jewish woman to be elected as leader of a major federal political party in Canada.

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Saidye Rosner Bronfman

Saidye Rosner Bronfman, OBE, community leader, philanthropist (born 9 December 1896 in Plum Coulee, MB; died 6 July 1995 in Montreal, QC). Saidye Bronfman was a leader in the Jewish community who generously supported the arts and various charities. She received the Order of the British Empire for her work with the Red Cross during the Second World War. Saidye and her husband, Samuel Bronfman, drew from their fortune in the liquor business to create a foundation that continues to fund community groups today.

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Leo Kolber

Ernest Leo Kolber, OC, businessman, philanthropist, senator (born 18 January 1929 in Montreal, QC; died 9 January 2020 in Montreal). Leo Kolber was a pillar of Canada’s business, political and philanthropic communities for more than 50 years. He was perhaps best known as a long-time advisor to the Bronfman family. Kolber also ran the successful real estate firm Cadillac Fairview Corporation, as well as holding companies that administered the Bronfman family trust. He served in the Senate of Canada from 1983 to 2004, most notably as chairman of the Standing Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce. He was also the Liberal Party’s chief fundraiser for many years and chair of the Advisory Council on National Security from 2005 to 2007. An Officer of the Order of Canada, he was recognized for his many charitable and philanthropic contributions.

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Rose Johnstone

Rose Mamelak Johnstone, FRSC, biochemist (born 14 May 1928 in Lodz, Poland; died 3 July 2009 in Montreal, QC). Rose Johnstone is best known for her discovery of exosomes, a key development in the field of cell biology. These tiniest of structures originating in all cells of the human body are vehicles that transport proteins, lipids and RNA from one cell to another. A pioneer of women in science, Johnstone was the first woman to hold the Gilman Cheney Chair in Biochemistry and the first and only woman chair of the Department of Biochemistry in McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine.

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Bessie Starkman

Besha (Bessie) Starkman (Perri), organized crime boss (born 14 April 1889 or 21 June 1890 in Poland; died 13 August 1930 in Hamilton, ON). During the Prohibition era she became known as Canada’s first high-profile female crime boss. With her common-law spouse, mobster Rocco Perri, she ran a bootlegging and drug-smuggling enterprise. Starkman was gunned down in the garage of her home and her murderers were never caught. Her funeral was one of the largest ever seen in Hamilton.

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Lillian Freiman

Lillian Freiman (née Bilsky), OBE, benefactor, community activist, organizer, civic leader and Zionist (born 6 June 1885 in Mattawa, ON; died 2 November 1940 in Montreal, QC). Lillian Freiman used her high social status and wealth to help those less fortunate, both within and beyond the Jewish community. For her work assisting First World War soldiers and leading the Poppy Campaign, the Canadian Legion made her an honorary life member in 1933. Freiman was the first woman to receive this honour.

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Morris Pearlman (Primary Source)

Morris Pearlman was a captain in the Royal Canadian Dental Corps during the Second World War. He served in various prisoner of war camps in Canada. Learn how Pearlman, a Jewish dental officer, set aside resentment and hostility as he treated German POWs.

Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.

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Murray Hyman Kirsh (Primary Source)

Murray Hyman Kirsh served in the Canadian Army during the Second World War. After his grandparents were killed by Nazis in Europe, Kirsh felt it was his duty to enlist to serve in the war. From 1942 to 1944, Kirsh served on the home front as a military officer guarding Allied prisoners of war. Listen to his story of German POWs trying to escape during his watch.

Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.

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Canada and the Holocaust

The Holocaust is defined as the systematic persecution and murder of 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews, including Roma and Sinti, Poles, political opponents, LGBTQ people and Soviet prisoners of war (POWs), by Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. Jews were the only group targeted for complete destruction. Nazi racial ideology considered them subhuman. Though Jewish Canadians did not experience the Holocaust directly, the majority endured anti-Semitism in Canada. Jewish Canadians were only one generation removed from lands under German occupation from 1933 to 1945. They maintained close ties to Jewish relatives in those lands. These ties affected the community’s response to the Holocaust. There was, for instance, a disproportionate representation of Jews in the Canadian armed forces. Jewish Canadians were also heavily involved in postwar relief efforts for displaced persons and Holocaust survivors in Europe.

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Sinhalese Canadians

The Sinhalese are the largest ethnic group of Sri Lanka. Immigration to Canada began in the mid-1950s and increased in the late 1980s. According to the 2016 Canadian census,  7,285 people claimed  Sinhalese ancestry (4,355 single and 2,925 multiple responses). The census reported 152,595 people of Sri Lankan origin in Canada.

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South Asian Canadians

South Asians trace their origins to South Asia, which encompasses India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Most South Asian Canadians are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from these countries, but immigrants from South Asian communities established during British colonial times also include those from East and South Africa, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji and Mauritius. Others come from Britain, the US and Europe. In the 2016 census, 1, 963,330 Canadians reported South Asian origins (1,603,000 single and 360,330 multiple responses).

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Toronto Chinatown

Toronto’s Chinatown, one of the largest in North America, is an ever-evolving neighbourhood defined by numerous cohorts of Chinese immigrants with a diversity of culture, traditions and languages. (See Chinese Canadians.) Also known as Chinatown West, it is one of three Chinatowns in Toronto, more of the large Chinese settlements are included from the inner suburbs, like Scarborough and North York, and outer suburbs, like Markham, Mississauga and Richmond Hill.

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Jean Lumb

Jean Bessie Lumb (née Toy Jin Wong), CM, community leader, restaurateur (born 30 July 1919 in Nanaimo, BC; died 17 July 2002 in Toronto, ON). Jean Lumb was the first Chinese Canadian woman and first restaurateur inducted into the Order of Canada. She is also best known for her role in successfully lobbying the federal government to change its discriminatory immigration policies that separated Chinese families. Lumb also led the Save Chinatown Committee to prevent further demolition of Toronto’s Chinatown in the 1960s.

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German Canadians

German Canadians — that is, Canadians who report their ethnic origin as solely or partly from Germany or of German ancestry — are one of Canada's largest ethnic categories of European origin. At the time of the British Conquest of New France, nearly 200 families living in the St. Lawrence Valley were of German origin. British North America, and then Canada, would receive six waves of immigration throughout their history, the most recent of which consisted of displaced people at the end of the Second World War. In the 2016 Canadian Census, 3,322,405 Canadians (nearly 10 per cent of the population) reported German origins, and 404,745 people in the country reported German as their mother tongue. A large proportion of these respondents lived in Ontario or central Canada.

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Black Lives Matter-Canada

Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a decentralized movement to end anti-Black racism. It was founded as an online community in the United States in 2013 in response to the acquittal of the man who killed Black teenager Trayvon Martin. Its stated mission is to end white supremacy and state-sanctioned violence and to liberate Black people and communities. The Black Lives Matter hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) has been used to bring attention to discrimination and violence faced by Black people. BLM has chapters in the United States and around the world. There are five chapters in Canada: Toronto (BLM-TO), Vancouver (BLM-VAN), Waterloo Region, Edmonton, and New Brunswick.

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Anne Cools

Anne Clare Cools, administrator, community worker, senator (born on 12 August 1943 in Barbados, British West Indies). An influential Black Canadian activist, Anne Cools served four months in jail for her role in the Sir George Williams Affair, for which she was pardoned in 1981. She founded Women in Transition, one of Canada’s first shelters for female victims of violence. She also served on the National Parole Board of Canada. In 1984, she became the first Black Canadian to be named to the Senate. She served as a Liberal, Conservative and independent senator for more than 30 years, and was known as the Dean of the Senate for her knowledge of parliamentary history and procedure.

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Kay Livingstone

Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone (née Jenkins), organizer and activist, broadcaster, actor (born 13 October 1919 in London, ON; died 25 July 1975). Kay Livingstone founded the Canadian Negro Women’s Association in 1951 and organized the first National Congress of Black Women in 1973. An established radio broadcaster and actor, Livingstone also devoted a great deal of her life and energy to social activism and organizing. Her tireless work to encourage a national discussion around the position of racialized people in society, particularly Black women, led Livingstone to coin the term visible minority in 1975.

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Black History in Canada: 1960 to Present

Black people have lived in Canada since the 17th century. Some of the earliest arrivals were enslaved persons brought from what we now call the United States of America and from the Caribbean. (See Black Canadians; Caribbean Canadians.) From the 18th century to the 1960s, most Black immigrants to Canada were fleeing enslavement and/or discrimination in the United States. Since then, changes to Canadian immigration policy have led to an influx of immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa. (See African Canadians.) In the 2016 Canadian census, 1.2 million people (3.5 per cent of the Canadian population) reported being Black.. Despite ongoing challenges, including discrimination and systemic racism, Black Canadians have excelled in sectors and industries across the country.

See also Black History in Canada until 1900 and Black History in Canada: 1900–1960.