Jewish Community of Winnipeg – 1900-1910

The Origins of Winnipeg’s Jewish Community

By 1910 the overwhelming majority of the approximately 9,000 Jews in Winnipeg, largely working and lower middle class, lived in the North End with a small number of wealthier Jews residing in the central and southern parts of the city.

According to Roz Usiskin by the early 1900s the Jewish community had evolved into three major currents that incorporated values and traditions emanating from life in the Pale of Settlement and other parts of Eastern Europe, while adapting to the dictates and circumstances of Canadian society. These were religion, Zionism and socialism. The religious current consisted of reform, orthodox and conservative elements. Zionism took on various forms encompassing labour or socialist Zionists and the more conservative General Zionists and Mizrachi, the latter imbued with religious principles and values. The third current, socialism, manifested itself in revolutionary Marxists, anarchists and nationalists, in addition to the aforementioned socialist Zionists. For socialist Jews, Yiddish was the prime vehicle of communication and the linguistic and cultural ingredient that would contribute to the construction of the future socialist state. The socialist component was strengthened in 1905 with the arrival of a young generation of activists escaping persecution and oppression in czarist Russia. The dialectical interplay of the three currents accounted for the community’s vibrancy and resulted in expanding the parameters of what it meant to be a Jew.

The community’s associational life began to flourish during this period. Organizations reflective of the religious and secular forces at play were instrumental in addressing the community’s intellectual, cultural, spiritual and political interests. These included the proliferation of synagogues, schools (such as the Talmud Torah), literary circles, drama societies and the appearance of the first community – wide newspaper the Canadian Israelite (Der Kanader Yid). Of critical importance was the emergence of mutual aid societies which provided financial assistance for those in need.  Arthur Ross has noted that there were three types of societies: those whose members originated from the same town, region or country (landsmanshaftn); those that were open to all Jews such as the Hebrew Sick Benefit Association which was created in 1906; and those which combined mutual aid with labour radicalism. 

In short Winnipeg’s Jewish community, confronted with the trials and tribulations and challenges of life in a new country, honed skills and created the necessary tools to ensure the viability of their cultural identity, and to exert as much control as possible in the maelstrom of daily life.