Calgary & Southern Alberta
Alberta's first Jewish resident arrived in Calgary from Ontario in 1888. Jacob Diamond, originally from Russia, became involved in pawnbroking, and the hide and liquor trades. His brother William arrived in 1892 to open a tailoring shop. The two men founded the religious community around which later Jewish immigrants structured their lives.
Alberta's Jewish population remained small throughout most of the twentieth century. Most Jewish newcomers stayed in Montreal or Toronto after arriving in Canada. A number of Jewish settlers began successful farm operations at Trochu, Rumsey, and Sibbald between 1904 and 1911. However, the majority of Jews who moved on to Alberta established themselves in urban centres, where some became involved in cattle-buying, and most established mercantile enterprises.
This pattern did not sit well with immigration officials who were soliciting rural settlers. They had little enthusiasm for any immigrants, whether they were Italians, Greeks or Jews, wishing to settle in Calgary or Edmonton. Canada's traditions of anti-Semitism further dampened official support for Jewish immigration. Alberta's population included only seventeen Jewish residents in 1901. Over the next decade, the figure grew to 1,505 but by 1921 the province was still home to only 3,201 Jewish people, 70 percent of whom lived in Calgary and Edmonton.
Perhaps because of its small size, Alberta's urban Jewish community was not subjected to the same degree of overt, organised discrimination that Jews in central Canada experienced during much of this century. Alberta's professional schools, for example, did not impose enrolment quotas, as did their counterparts in Manitoba and Ontario in the 1930s. Nevertheless, informal discrimination was part of the fabric of community life in Calgary, as in other North American cities. Middle class Jewish entrepreneurs and professionals, for example, were barred from the social clubs to which their non-Jewish counterparts belonged.
Rural Alberta's 4,000 Jews personally experienced little antipathy from neighbours during the 1930s. Nevertheless, the 1935 victory of the Social Credit party, which depended in good measure on the province's farm vote, provided anti-Semitic politicians with a broad audience throughout Alberta during the late 1930s. The party's ideological underpinnings incorporated a "conspiracy theory" of history. This theory portrayed Jews as parasitic money manipulators involved in a dark world of international finance with which Social Credit supporters associated the banks that foreclosed on farmers' lands during the Depression. The party's founder, Major Douglas, virulently anti-Semitic, held Jews responsible for the social and economic ills that beset Alberta during the 1930s and 1940s.
Premier Aberhart's own attitude towards Jews was somewhat ambiguous. Aberhart's personal commentaries reveal ambivalent and sometimes contradictory sentiments that, according to historian Howard Palmer, had little to do with the premier's indifference to efforts to help European Jews escape from Nazi persecution before and during World War II. While the premier publicly denounced anti-Semitism, his network of friends and acquaintance included well-known American anti-Semites such as Henry Ford and several religious fundamentalists.
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