The Tailor Project

In a 1947 brief presented to the Standing Committee on Immigration and Labour of the Canadian Senate, Michael Gerber representing the Canadian Jewish Congress urged the Canadian government to ease its restrictions on Jewish immigration. He assured the senators that Jews made good Canadians who would contribute greatly to the country's economy. Until then, Canada's response to the millions of Jews seeking refuge from Nazi persecution and post-war dislocation had been abysmal; only a few thousand were admitted between 1933 and 1948. In their book None is Too Many, Irving Abella and Harold Troper provide ample evidence to suggest that immigration policies were influenced by anti-semitic strains in Canadian political and intellectual life.

After the War, the organized Jewish community devised several strategies to change this state of affairs, one of which was to draw on the support of the garment manufacturers and the labour movement. The Canadian Jewish Congress in conjunction with the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, and the Canadian Overseas Garment Commission, which was comprised of garment manufacturers from Winnipeg, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. First implemented was the Tailor Project. This initiative captured the attention of the Canadian government by arguing that tailors were needed to meet the demands of an ever expanding garment industry and clothing retail sector. By April 1949, some 2,000 Jewish and non-Jewish families, many of which were in displaced camps throughout Europe, found their way to Canada. At the same time efforts were made to attract furriers and milliners. Winnipeg was assigned 7% of these refugees. This meant 134 tailors and their families for a total of 267 persons. However, as noted in the minutes of a meeting of the Western Executive Committee (Dominion Council) of the Canadian Jewish Congress on December 16, 1948, 193 tailors along with 149 family members came to Winnipeg.

Many of the refugees were orphans. In the report "Western United Jewish Relief Agencies Projects," 39 of the 401 orphans brought to Canada by March 1948 had settled in Winnipeg. Of those, 26 found work in the garment industry, most as sewing machine operators. The report states, "There was a tendency among a number of children to prefer employment in the garment trade because they thought the best opportunities would be found there… One of them is now drawing a weekly salary of between $50 and $60 doing piece-work in a cloak factory. There are a few more whose weekly income has reached $50." Through 1948 and 1949, more orphans made their way to Winnipeg, some of whom were also to find employment in the garment industry.