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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The immigrant experience : personal recollections of Jewish garment workers in Canada, 1900-1930 Berson, Seemah Cathline,


This thesis is concerned with the lives of East European Jews who came to Canada in search of better living and working conditions. The period under review is 1900-1930. The study is based on the personal recollections of over fifty informants ranging in age from 65 to 90 years. The initial purpose was to discover why so many Jewish immigrants had chosen to work in the clothing factories of Montreal and Toronto. As the research progressed the reasons for choice of occupation faded into the background and their experiences in surmounting new problems became of paramount importance. In order to fully understand the motivations and actions of these people, this thesis investigates, through the media of taped interviews, the lives of Jewish immigrants in the Pale of Settlement. The Jews had been confined to the Pale for many years hence they were not only isolated but insulated from the wider politica happenings of the last two centuries. Their awakening, at the end of the 19th and early 20th century, through wars and consequent occupations, set their sights beyond the villages and towns in which they lived toward cities across borders and oceans. This thesis explores some of the historical roots and traditions of a people, why they tenaciously clung to their identity and their ability to start life all over again. The purpose is to convey a sense of living which a few people experienced even though millions emigrated to Canada and the United States at the turn of the century. The focus is on revealing the lives of workers in the Old Country, their journeying to the New World, and their experiences in Canada adjusting to a new setting. Utilizing the words of informants wherever possible the concern is not only to convey what their lives were like but also to show how they themselves reflect upon their past: the need to give meaning to one's actions is always unconsciously present in the recounting. Photographs are used throughout in order to give a further dimension to the words of these immigrants. A Glossary is appended giving meanings of Yiddish and other language words used. A Bibliography of references cited is also appended.

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