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Reviewed by:
  • Canada's Jews: A People's Journey
  • Andrew Gow
Tulchinsky, Gerald — Canada's Jews: A People's Journey. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008. Pp. 597.

This one-volume condensation of Gerald Tulchinsky's magisterial Taking Root: The Origins of the Canadian Jewish Community (1992) and Branching Out: The Transformation of the Canadian Jewish Community (1998) adds some further references to scholarship and events since 1998, but fundamentally covers the same ground as the two original volumes did. Since their contents are presumably well known, I focus here on issues of emphasis, construction, and coverage in this immense 600-page compendium.

As the subtitle suggests, this book is intended for a generalist audience with little or no knowledge of Jewish history in Canada. Although Tulchinsky is always advancing arguments that bear on the causes of this or that phenomenon or its origins, arguments that belong to the order of historiographical discourse, he never engages directly with the scholarship to which he is responding, which feels a bit like shadow-boxing. Historians of Canada or Jewish historians will know the debates about the origins of antisemitism in twentieth-century Canada, but general readers will have to take Tulchinsky's word that there was no real antisemitism or anti-Jewish feeling in eighteenth- or nineteenth-century "Canada" (or its predecessor polities) — rather, it appeared sometime before the end of massive Eastern European Jewish immigration to Canada in 1925 and caused the change in that policy to boot (p. 236). Furthermore, while the antisemites responsible for the end of mass immigration — just as things were getting really bad for Eastern European Jewry and not long before the Shoah — were federal civil servants and government officials (especially Frederick Blair and William Egan), Tulchinsky feels that the main nexus of Canadian antisemitism was to be found in "clerico-fascist" Catholic circles in Quebec. This is only one example of the contradictory and sometimes downright asymmetrical arguments Tulchinsky advances (while refusing to engage the specialist literature or debates explicitly). Some of these problems result from duplication, probably due to merging two previous books that somewhat overlapped into a single volume. There are two distinct and very detailed sections on the Jewish role [End Page 273] (of employers and of workers) in the Montreal and Toronto garment (shmattes) trade, overlapping around the 1910s and 1920s. Tulchinsky's work on the "rag trade" is excellent, it should be noted, and forms the core of his historical insights into the conditions of recent Jewish immigrants, their class consciousness, and their experience of life in Canada. These sections, despite the overlaps, will be of particular interest to readers of this journal for classroom use.

The other notable example of this doubling is the dual coverage of the Montreal school crisis, an event that emerged with an almost rigorous logic from the provisions of the British North America Act for separate schooling for children of Protestant denominations and for Catholics. In 1867, the few German and Sephardic Jews in Montreal were no more reliant on public schools for their children than were other well-to-do urban merchants, and so there was no provision for the public education of Jewish children. In the wake of bloody pogroms in Eastern Europe, the exploding population of mainly Yiddish-speaking Jews without private resources quickly outnumbered the established, largely well-to-do German and Sephardic Jews of North America in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This led to a crisis in the funding and provision of public education for Jewish children in Montreal. Although the Protestant school board took Jewish children and exempted them from Christian religious instruction, Jews had no right to representation on the Protestant school board, and no Jewish teachers were hired in its schools. While a separate Jewish school board very nearly materialized before the Second World War, the Protestant school board and representatives of the Jewish community eventually yielded to government pressure to compromise. Tulchinsky's careful and detailed examination of this crisis is one of the great merits of his work.

The school crisis deeply affected many Montreal families. In 1919, my great-grandfather Albert Freedman and his wife Mabel left Montreal with their...


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