The Jews of Dauphin

Frances Bay and the Jews of Dauphin, Manitoba

The Jews of Dauphin

Much of the research on the history of Manitoba Jewry has focused on the city of Winnipeg. Less attention has been paid to the lives and legacies of Jews in smaller cities, towns, villages and other rural settings. There are exceptions, namely Arthur Chiel, Harry Gutkin, Abe Arnold, Chana Thau, John Lehr and Allan Levine who dedicates considerable space to this phenomenon in his book Coming of Age (2009).

 Arthur Chiel has pointed out that in the 1920s at the height of the rural Jewish population, Jewish country merchants had settled in no less than one hundred and eighteen towns and villages in Manitoba, including Dauphin. 

The impetus for Dauphin’s development sprang from the convergence of the creation of a railway line with a burgeoning wheat economy. In the early 1900s there were five grain elevators. By the 1920s Dauphin had a vibrant commercial district, cultural and recreational venues, two newspapers and counted a population of 4,000.

In Dogtown to Dauphin, local historian Adam Little makes reference to the arrival in 1898 of a certain Jake Buckwold who began his career as a clerk in Tevel Finkelstein’s general store. Little offers no indication as to when Finkelstein had settled in Dauphin. In 1902, Buckwold married Bessie Silverstein in what was the first Jewish wedding in the community. According to Little, the ceremony took place under a canopy in the fire hall. Max and Anne Goffman and their children Frances and Erving settled in Dauphin in 1926 where Max Goffman opened a department store. At its peak the Jewish population grew to around 15 – 20 families. Census data for 1940 records 15 families: Bay, Boroditsky, Breslaw, Buckwold, Cohen, Cooper, Feingold, Goffman, Isaacovitch, Katz, Koffman, Nippon (sic), Shnoor, Smordin and Solomon.

Sherri Cavan, who has researched and written on the history of the Dauphin Jewish community, informs us that Dauphin had a stratified class system with political power and privilege resting in the hands of a predominantly Anglo business and professional elite. Cavan’s research also shows that Dauphin was not oblivious to the anti-Semitism that was manifested in Canada through the discriminatory practices and musings of government officials, business elites and the press.  Canadian immigration policy designated a category of “non-preferred immigrants” which included Jews. A former resident, Ely Bay, referred to anti-Semitism on the part of Ukrainian farmers who referred to the old Jewish families (the Bays and Buckwolds) as “white Jews” and the new families (Cohens, Neepans) as the “black Jews.” When asked if there was anti-Semitism in Dauphin, Frances Bay answered: “Absolutely. I didn’t realize it, or I might have realized it because some kids could play with me and others couldn’t…I don’t know how to put it, but of course there was anti-Semitism.” 

Over the course of the years Jews left Dauphin in pursuit of professional and business careers in larger industrialized urban centres such as Winnipeg where there was a strong, dynamic Jewish community and institutional life replete with cultural organizations, synagogues, social service agencies and schools.