The Winnipeg Jewish Community and the 1927 Diamond Jubilee

December 17, 2021

Canada finally celebrated Confederation in style with the Diamond Jubilee after plans for the Golden Anniversary had to be shelved due to World War I. 1927 was trouble-free and the country was prosperous and confident.   

Cities, towns, churches, and businesses across Canada organized celebrations, some of which were broadcast from coast to coast by Canada’s first national radio hookup. Winnipeg coordinated a giant parade of 175 floats that processed from the Legislative Building to Assiniboine Park where more activities took place. Across the river, St. Boniface celebrated Confederation with horse racing at the Whittier Park Track as well as archery contests and a baseball game between St. Boniface and Ste. Agathe. The Manitoba Free Press invited poets from across Canada to submit contest entries. Special trains ran to Winnipeg Beach. In all, 150 Manitoba towns organized events.

 Articles in the Israelite Press and Jewish Post expressed patriotic enthusiasm for Canada and Jewish life here but the community hesitated to get more involved. Jews worried about underlining their differences with the broader community by accepting the invitation from the organizing committee to take part as a distinct group in an emerging multicultural mosaic, a forerunner to today’s Folklorama. Preparations for hosting the mid-June Canadian-wide Zionist convention posed an additional obstacle as did observance of Shabbat which ran from the evening of July 1st until sundown on July 2nd.  Nevertheless, the Jewish Post urged the community to show how much Jews had shared in and contributed to Canadian development and Aaron Ossovsky, Zionist leader and Director of the Jewish Orphanage, helped convince the Lake City Lodge of B’nai Brith headed by W. Rosensweig to take up the challenge.

In the lead-up to the Jubilee, radio station CKY broadcast a ninety-minute program on the upcoming celebrations based around brief talks by fifteen national groups in their own languages. A prominent lawyer, M.J. Finkelstein, was originally chosen to speak for the Jewish community, but Ossovsky replaced him for unknown reasons. The Free Press was most interested in the talk in Ojibway by an Anglican priest of Ojibway origin, possibly the first time an Indigenous voice had been heard on radio. The talks were interspersed with live music, none of it Jewish.

Despite the late start to preparations, the two Jewish floats in the giant parade won second prize in the national category. One float, which the Free Press considered the more popular of the two, reproduced in living statuary famous men from Jewish history. The other presented six giant gilded statues of biblical prophets. It is impossible to judge the artistic merit of the Jewish floats because unfortunately, no photograph or written description appears to have survived. The judges probably based their judgment on illustrating idealized Canadian values. First prize went to an Icelandic float that highlighted 1000 years of electoral political democracy. Second prize went to the Jewish display for emphasizing the importance of religion and the Greek float won third prize for establishing Western traditions of art and culture. 

Many events entertained and instructed observers in Assiniboine Park on the second day. Visitors could enjoy non-stop shows by national groups on a central stage. The Jewish group took its turn from 6:50 to 7:10 in the evening and, beyond that, the “Zionists,” as the special park map identified them, presented similar programs of singing and instrumental music through the day in an area behind the Conservatory. Unfortunately, there is no record of who performed and what was presented. Activities on the third day were limited to decorating patriotic monuments throughout the city. 

All in all, the Diamond Jubilee celebrated what Canada had achieved since Confederation and also announced the creation of a “new Canada” in which Jews and other new Canadians would be accepted as equals. Full equality took many more years and equality for Indigenous Canadians is taking even longer.