Originally excluded from settling in Canada during the period of French rule, Jews first arrived in Montreal with British soldiers during the French and Indian War in the early 1760s. After the war, a small number of Jews remained in the area and, by 1768, the first synagogue, Shaarei Israel, was consecrated there.
The late 18th and early 19th centuries saw the Jewish population gradually increase as immigration from Eastern Europe saw many Jewish communities sprout in various cities across the country. A sizeable number of Jewish immigrants continued to enter the country in the early 1900s. Post-war Canada saw a large increase in immigration from Holocaust survivors and refugees from North Africa – largely due to the energetic campaign of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), CIJA’S predecessor organization, during and after WWII. This immigration, of both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, significantly increased and diversified Canadian Jewry over the course of the 20th century.
The Jewish community in Canada today is stable and very active in Canadian society.
There have been numerous notable Jewish Canadian political figures throughout Canadian history. Ezekiel Hart – whose father had arrived with British soldiers during the time of the French and Indian War – became the first Jew elected to Canadian parliament in 1808. David Croll, who had emigrated from Russia during this time, became the first Jewish senator in 1955. Herbert Gray was Canada’s first Jewish federal cabinet minister, serving as Deputy Prime Minister from 1997 to 2002. Irwin Cotler, who had been counsel to Nelson Mandela in 1981, served as Minister of Justice and Attorney General from 2003 to 2006. The Honorable Rosalie Silberman Abella, daughter of two Holocaust survivors and champion of human rights, was the first Jewish woman appointed to the Canadian Supreme Court, where she continues to serve today.