The Jewish Heritage Centre prides itself in possessing an archive that does justice to the legacy and richness of Winnipeg and Manitoba Jewish history. The archive includes photos and documents that serve as testimonies to the experiences and contributions of the pre-1900 settlers.
In his book The Jews in Manitoba (1961) Arthur Chiel wrote that Ferdinande Jacobs, an English Jew, an apprentice in the fur trade of the Hudson’s Bay Company, arrived at Fort Prince of Wales on the Churchill River in 1732 where he attained the post of Chief Factor and later went to York Fort.
In the late 1850s, Joseph Ullman, the proprietor of a general store in St. Paul Minnesota, had dealings with the Red River fur traders and became part of a network of suppliers and buyers that included the city of Winnipeg. Throughout the 1860s and 1870s several Jewish fur traders from St. Paul operated in Manitoba including Auerbach, Finch, Scheffer and Kovitz.
The first Jews to settle permanently in Winnipeg were the Coblentz Brothers (Edmond, Adolphe, and Aachel) who came in 1877-1878. By 1881 a number of Jews had settled in Winnipeg and Manitoba and had established themselves in numerous trades and enterprises. These included jewelers, tobacconists, peddlers, dry goods merchants, tailors, clothing merchants, a clergyman and a physician. The 1881 Manitoba census indicates that there were thirty-three Jewish families in Manitoba, twenty-one of which were in Winnipeg. Manitoba’s total Jewish population numbered about one hundred.
But it was the influx of immigrants who escaped the Russian pogroms of 1881 and 1882 which was to permanently alter the socio-economic and cultural life of Winnipeg Jewry. By June 10, 1882 some three hundred and forty had arrived. Like so many other immigrants they were confronted with numerous difficulties such as adapting to a different and challenging socio-economic, political, cultural and linguistic environment, and confronted living and working conditions that would tax their moral fortitude and resolve. In due time they were able to creatively adapt to the exigencies of Canadian life and contributed to the vigour and dynamism of Jewish community affairs through the various religious and secular entities that fashioned a Winnipeg Jewish identity.