Anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism in Ontario has taken many forms over the last century and a half, from anti-Semitic cartoons and commentaries in the popular press to vocal neo-Nazi’s and Holocaust deniers such as John Beattie and Ernst Zundel to the legacy of incidences such as the Christie Pits and Allen Gardens riots. These are all stark reminders that Jewish residents were not always welcome in many cities and towns around the province. Yet, beyond these public events and figures were the everyday occurrences that affected individual lives in equally important ways.

This was particularly noticeable in Ontario’s accommodation and employment practices in the early-to-mid twentieth-century. It is hard to imagine today walking into a restaurant or hotel and being greeted with a sign saying “No Jews Allowed” or “Gentiles Only”. But many restaurants, shops, golf clubs and resorts would only serve non-Jewish clientele and signs like these were found on many of the beaches around the province as well. These exclusionary practices led some in the community to establish their own clubs and resorts that would cater to Jewish patrons not welcome elsewhere, such as the Primrose Club in Toronto.

Similar to accommodations, many Jewish people faced discrimination in employment, particularly in fields like medicine and education. Some businesses would advertise that they only employed gentiles and many Jewish employees faced anti-Semitism while on the job. University programs similarly discriminated against Jewish students well into the 1960s, often requiring higher marks for entrance than non-Jewish applicants. Jewish medical graduates in particular had many difficulties finding placements outside of Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.

Additionally, Ontario had laws in place that prevented houses and property from being sold to anyone that was not white and Christian, known as restrictive covenants. One of the most well-known court cases involving a restrictive covenant occurred in 1948 when Bernard Wolf of London, Ontario attempted to buy beachfront property at the Beach O’Pines resort on Lake Huron. A restrictive covenant dating to the original deed of sale of 1933 was discovered. The covenant was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court where it was struck down because of the difficulty of determining a person’s race and not because it was a discriminatory practice. However, the ruling set a precedent, allowing for the gradual elimination of restrictions on the sale of property.

The Ontario Jewish Archives holds the records of individuals and organizations documenting the history of anti-Semitism in Ontario from the early 20th Century up until the present day. Most notable are the records of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Joint Community Relations Committee (JCRC), which was mandated with documenting and combating issues of anti-Semitism in the province. These records help to illustrate the Jewish community’s response to specific incidents as well as their work towards building a more pluralistic society absent of hatred and discrimination. Included in the records are incident reports, court documents, complaints, photographs, letters of advice and recommendation, as well as policy documents and government submissions. They provide insight into urban as well as rural issues and incidents. The JCRC was also active in pressing for anti-hate laws and fair accommodation and fair employment practices acts, which are well documented in the records.

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