This Week in History
Montréal’s Jewish Community on the Main
For the week of Monday December 25, 2006
On December 31, 1928, Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen opened for business in the heart of the Jewish community in Montréal, located on the Main.
Saint-Laurent Boulevard was originally established as Saint-Lambert Street in 1672 to connect the walled city of Montréal to Côte Saint-Laurent to the north. In 1792, Saint-Laurent Street was declared the east-west divide of the city. Since 1825 it has been called the Main. The Main became Montréal’s immigrant centre in the 19th century.
After 1881, Ashkenazic Jews from many European countries, including Austria-Hungary, Romania and Russia came to Canada to escape varying degrees of persecution. The Jewish population in Montréal was nearly 60 000 in 1931, making Jews the third largest ethnocultural group, after English and French. Yiddish became so prevalent that it was Montréal’s third most common language. In the 1950s, Sephardic Jews from Iraq, Lebanon and newly independent Morocco came to flee persecution. These immigrants were significantly acculturated into the Francophone community.
Anti-Semitism was also present in Canada. Jews were often excluded from universities, hospitals and jobs. In the 1920s Jews were placed in a special category to discourage further immigration and, in the 1930s-40s, Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe were refused entry into Canada.
Maintaining Jewish culture was a priority in Montréal. Yiddish remained the vernacular within the community, the local theatre and the community newspapers, including the Keneder Adler (“Canadian Eagle”).
Several notable people came out of this community, including poets Abraham Moses Klein and Irving Layton, novelist Mordecai Richler, and actor William Shatner.
The Main was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1996.
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