The pleasant temperatures of the short spring and summer of the fertile plains of the Canadian Midwest are a stark contrast to the winter, when temperatures can plummet to -40 degrees Fahrenheit and almost never rise above freezing. That the land is covered with snow for over half the year was probably not a daunting feature for the hundreds of Russian and Eastern European Jews who arrived there at the end of the 19th century.

The first settlement, referred to as New Jerusalem, was founded in 1882 near Moosomin (Saskatchewan) at the instigation of Canadian High Commissioner Alexander T. Galt, who saw Jewish immigration as a solution to the Russian pogroms. Although some issues arose due to latent anti-Semitism (unusual delays in procuring the land grants), the Jewish colonizers were accepted as part of the Canadian drive to open up its western frontier. Due to adverse conditions and a disastrous fire, New Jerusalem lasted only five years.

Colonies such as Wapella and Hirsch were assisted by independent philanthropists, the English Herman Landau and the French Baron Maurice de Hirsch (with the Young Men’s Hebrew Benevolent Society, and the Baron Hirsch Colonization Alliance), respectively. The financing allowed for the initial settlement, but neither of these settlements would have lasted as long as they did without an influx of independently financed settlers. The Hirsch colony had the first synagogue in the province and established, what is today, the oldest Jewish cemetery in Canada.

In 1906, Lithuanian Jews from Europe and South Africa traveled to Saskatchewan, but rather than join the already existing settlements, these scholars and petty merchants went north on the Carrot River to the well-forested land. Edenbridge, derived from Yidden (Jews) Bridge as they wanted to name the town, survived for several decades. The wooden structure of the Beth Israel Synagogue, which was used until 1964, still stands. Indeed, a few Jewish farms were still active as late as 1968.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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