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  • Two Travellers and Two Canadian Jewish Wests
  • Richard Menkis (bio)

Few Jews traveling to Canada used the 1921 route of Joseph Herman Hertz (1872–1946), proud bearer of the title "Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire." Most Jews who migrated from England (often via the United States) between 1759 and 1881, and the Eastern European Jews who came in waves between 1881 and 1925, arrived in Canada's Atlantic ports.1 Hertz, however, landed on Canada's Pacific coast, beginning the last leg of his "pastoral tour of the Jewish communities in the 'British Overseas Dominions.'" After he departed from England on October 21, 1920, he travelled to South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand before arriving in Victoria, British Columbia on July 4, 1921. During his time in the Canadian West, he met members of the Jewish community, held discussions with mayors and premiers, and delivered addresses in prestigious non-Jewish settings such as the local Canadian Clubs. After Hertz's return to Great Britain, he further spread the word of the tour by delivering public lectures on his voyage, followed by a published account.2

It is unlikely that Rabbi Yeshaye Horowitz (1883–1977), who lived in Winnipeg between 1923 and 1953, ever had an audience with a government official, or knew the address of Winnipeg's local Canadian Club. Certainly neither of these distinctions appears in the sefer—a book on Jewish sacred themes—that he published several years after his arrival in Winnipeg. In the book, he provides some details on his move to North America, and recounts three separate trips he made to the Jewish settlements in twenty-two cities, towns, and farm settlements in Western Canada. The description of these trips emphasizes the religious institutions in the region.3 [End Page 109]

There are obvious differences between these two travellers. Hertz came through the region on a worldwide tour, while Horowitz, after moving to North America, travelled on several occasions from his home in Winnipeg to cities and towns in the Canadian West. Nevertheless, a detailed examination of these travellers and their texts offers insight into two phenomena. First, it builds on current research on rabbinic emissaries and points to lesser-known examples of communal figures who uprooted themselves in order to advocate or reinforce transnational Jewish identities. Second, it deepens our understanding of what has become known in North American historiography as the "many wests."4 This literature has looked to undermine the hegemonic Anglo-Celtic Christian narrative of "how-the-West-was-won" by illustrating how many groups, with different aspirations, settled the West. However, this nuancing must go further. In this paper we give examples of the "many Wests" within one group.

Prior to discussing what is in the narratives, it should be noted what is not in them. The Canadian effort to "open up" the Prairies with Europeans not only ignored the First Nations and Métis who lived in these areas, but actively displaced them from their traditional ways of life. It prevented them from acquiring homesteads, and private property off the reserves, until 1951.5 As historian David Koffman has argued in his work on Jewish traders with First Nations groups in North America, the Jews who were looking to emigrate from Europe became actors–unwitting, but actors nonetheless—in the global economic trends and nation-building agenda that dispossessed First Nations.6 Although there were some remarkable interwar Canadian Jewish literary appreciations of First Nations, most specifically of Tekahionwake (E. Pauline Johnson), [End Page 110] these were the exceptions.7 First Nations did not figure prominently in the Jewish imagination. Certainly, they did not appear in the two Jewish narratives examined in this essay.

On the Road

A close examination of the narratives by Hertz and Horowitz sheds some light on a subgroup of Jewish travellers—those who travelled for religious purposes. While it is certain that Hertz travelled in some comfort, his "pastoral tour" was nevertheless an arduous voyage. So why make it at all? Because he knew the ideals that he was attempting to promote—an acculturated Anglo-Jewish Orthodoxy—and the emotions he was trying to foster—such as loyalty...


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pp. 109-132
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