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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Insiders and outsiders : two waves of Jewish settlement in British Columbia, 1858-1914 Wisenthal, Christine Boas

Abstract

In the period between 1858 and 1914, two different waves of Jewish immigrants came to British Columbia. The first wave, composed largely of Jews of German and West European origin, came to British Columbia during the gold-rush period, 1858-1871. The second wave, composed for the most part of East European Jews, settled in the province between 1886 and 1914. This thesis is a historical geographical study of the adaptation of each of the two groups of European Jewish immigrants to their respective new settings in British Columbia. The main questions addressed concern ethnic/religious group formation and survival in new and unfamiliar physical, economic and social environmental conditions. Archival and library sources have yielded most of the primary data on which the thesis was based. The two groups of Jewish immigrants each settled in different parts of British Columbia. Between 1858 and 1871, several hundred German and West European Jews were lured from California by the discovery of gold in the new British colony. Most settled in the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island where they formed a vibrant Jewish community during the gold-rush period. Others went to the smaller communities in, and en route to, the gold-mining regions in the mainland interior of British Columbia. By 1871, in the aftermath of the Cariboo gold-rush, many Jews had left the province, but a small core of Jewish families remained in Victoria. In contrast, between 1886 and 1914, the province received a large influx of generally impoverished Jewish immigrant families who had fled from pogroms in their homelands in Eastern Europe. The city of Vancouver absorbed the majority of these East European Jewish immigrants. Most concentrated in the low-income East End immigrant district of the city. For the most part, the German and West European Jews were merchants and traders whose main business involved provisioning and outfitting the large transient mining population in the Cariboo region during the gold rushes. The base of these commercial operations was in Victoria where a concentration of Jewish businesses emerged after 1858. Many of the Jewish firms in Victoria were linked with Jewish businesses in San Francisco. The first wave of Jewish immigrants was received with a remarkable degree of tolerance and became well-integrated into the British host society in Victoria without losing their ethnic identity. They formed a traditional Jewish community and built a synagogue in 1863 in Victoria. The East European Jews lacked the entrepreneurial spirit of their earlier counterparts in the province. The immediate concern of most of the East European Jewish immigrants upon arrival in Vancouver was to rebuild their uprooted lives. Most set themselves up as tailors, dressmakers, scrap dealers, shopkeepers and petty traders in the East End of Vancouver. By 1914, there was a marked concentration of Jews in the clothing business in Vancouver. Feelings of alienation from the British host society among the East European Jews led to the formation of a segregated, ghetto-like traditional Jewish community in the East End of Vancouver by 1914. Jewish life was focussed on an Orthodox congregation which built the first synagogue in Vancouver in 1911. Despite shared religious traditions, the two waves of Jewish immigrants each produced widely different 'Jewish geographies' in British Columbia between 1858 and 1914.

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