The Jews of La Macaza
The story of Jewish farming communities in Western Canada has become well known and fully documented. Through hardships and early failures, many of these communities grew to flourish, to become self sustaining and to develop a full communal life. What is less well known is the story of smaller Jewish farming communities in Eastern Canada, notably in Quebec and Ontario.
On a much smaller scale than their western cousins, some succeeded, but others never achieved material success, causing their hopeful Jewish settlers to leave for the city after two or five or eight years of fruitless effort. Nevertheless, a nucleus clung tenaciously to their sparsely yielding land for four and even five decades, finding ways to remain and survive, clinging to their Jewish traditions and attempting to get along positively with their gentile neighbours.
One such community was La Macaza, Quebec and its fifty year history represents a small, but not unworthy chapter in the story of Canadian Jewish immigration.
Sources of Information
La Macaza came into being toward the end of the 19th century, under the umbrella of the Jewish Colonization Association founded in Paris by Baron de Hirsch in 1891. Funds were received for Canadian colonization by the Young Men's Hebrew Benevolent Society in Montreal (later to evolve into the Baron de Hirsch Institute). The latter arranged and supervised Jewish farming settlements both in Western and Eastern Canada. In 1906–07, this work was taken over by a newly formed Canadian Committee of the Jewish Colonization Association (J.C.A. or I.C.A.)1. We are fortunate that their board minutes, documents and files have been preserved within the collections of the Canadian Jewish Congress National Archives.
A further source of invaluable information, both statistical and anecdotal has been provided by French Canadian historian, Jean-Paul Bélanger, residing in the vicinity of La Macaza (at L'Annonciation, Quebec). His unpublished manuscript, Apercu Historique De La Colonie Juive De La Macaza2, provides the results of research into the local municipal and county tax rolls, local church records and correspondence, and personal interviews with elderly residents of La Macaza who still remembered the Jewish Colony and their contacts with it.
Finally, personal reminiscences remain among descendants of the early settlers. The author, closely related to some of the original colonists, spent many summers in La Macaza, and has also interviewed others with similar experience.
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