This issue of the Jewish Heritage Connects looks back at an interesting piece of our community’s history, highlighting Isaac Colish, a distinguished local politician who was the first Jewish police magistrate in Manitoba. The article also looks at the Jewish dairy farmers of West Kildonan in the early 1900s.
ISAAC COLISH AND THE JEWS OF WEST KILDONAN
The settlement patterns of Manitoba Jews straddled rural and urban socio-economic lifestyles. This was the case of the dairy farmers who settled in the West and Old Kildonan municipalities. These included the Tennehouses, Fromsons, Chochinovs, Filkows, Zipurskys, Finkles, Bercovitches, Pudavicks, Greenbergs, Walshinskys (Walshes), and Greenbergs, who for many years supplied Winnipeg with milk, cream, and cheese. Ze’ev Walshinsky (Walsh) came to Manitoba in the early 1900s, bought a farm which turned into a business and delivered milk to the North End. One of his sons, Harry, became a celebrated criminal lawyer. In the 1910s, the Filkows sold their dairy products to the Crescent Creamery at wholesale prices and by the 1920s directly to peddlers.
Louis Rosenberg notes that by 1911, 300 Jews lived in West Kildonan. This total declined to 100 in 1941. But following the war the Jewish presence in West Kildonan increased significantly and by 1961, 6,133 Jews lived in Winnipeg, a figure surpassed only by the 6,693 living in Winnipeg North.
In 1912, the dairy farmers built an Orthodox synagogue on Lillian Avenue, a two-room Talmud Torah that offered after-school Hebrew lessons and bar mitzvah classes, and a cemetery that is now part of the Hebrew Sick Benefit Cemetery. As a result of internal dissension that Allan Levine identifies as “disputes about prayer honours,” a second synagogue was established in 1915 on Newton Avenue, which lasted only until 1919. The building was sold to the Zipurskys who moved it closer to McPhillips and converted it into a grocery store. The Lillian Avenue synagogue, which was rebuilt following a fire in 1936, closed in 1949, and its assets were transferred to the Jewish National Fund.
Allan Levine noted that from the West Kildonan Jewish community there emerged Isaac Colish who was to establish a distinguished political career. Born in Shvenchenis, Lithuania, Colish came to Winnipeg in 1907, from England where he had operated two grocery stores. He had enough financial resources to purchase a horse and rig and delivered second-hand furniture. Shortly thereafter he invested in a shack, stable and land north of Main. In subsequent years, Colish owned grocery stores.
In 1913, Colish was elected to the Kildonan municipal council by acclamation. After the municipality divided into West, East and North, Colish was elected to the West Kildonan Council.
In 1916, Colish became the first Jewish police magistrate in Manitoba. He used his newfound powers to defend the interests of Jewish dairy farmers. Interviewed in 1972, Colish noted, “I protected [the Jewish Community]. They used to like me in Kildonan…At that time, the Jews had cattle, and people used to bring them into [the] pound and then [the owner] was charged twenty dollars, thirty dollars [as a pound fee to get them back]…I stopped that.
During the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, Colish, who at the time was Police Magistrate and was expected to uphold the law, sympathized with labour. In one instance he allowed for a meeting of strikers at Kildonan Park, notwithstanding a warning from the park superintendent who declared that such meetings could not take place on city property. In addition, Colish proceeded to “pass his cap” and raise funds for the unemployed.
In recognition of his service to the people of West Kildonan, Colish had a street named after him in the Garden City area.
Isaac Colish died in 1977 at the age of 100.
Colish, Isaac. Interviewed by Sam Donen, April 14, 1972, Tape no.61,
Winnipeg: Jewish Historical Society Oral History Collection (Jewish Heritage
Jewish Life and Times: Personal Recollections: The Jewish Pioneer Past on the Prairies. Winnipeg: Jewish Historical Society of Western Canada, 1993.
(Includes excerpts from interviews with Isaac Colish and Jack Filkow).
Levine, Allan. Coming of Age: A History of the Jewish People of Manitoba.
Winnipeg: Heartland Associates, 2009.
Rosenberg, Louis. A Study of the Growth and Changes in the Distribution of the Jewish Population of Winnipeg 1961. Montreal: Bureau of Social and Economic