The first Jews in Canada
When Canada first became a country, 150 years ago, there were slightly less than 1,200 Jews living here. But Jewish settlement in French, and then British, North America, goes back much further.
In 1677, Joseph de la Penha, a young Sephardi Jewish merchant, ship owner and financier of privateers from Rotterdam, Netherlands, landed on the coast of Labrador and claimed the territory for the Stadtholder William of Orange. Some years later, one version of this story goes, when William became King William III of England, de la Penha saved the king from drowning during a stormy sea voyage. Another version has it that one of de la Penha’s ships had protected the English coast from attack by the French in 1696. In any event, to show his gratitude, William bequeathed de la Penha all of Labrador. This generous gift was confirmed in an official document in 1697.
More than three centuries later, in 1927, when the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council ruled that Labrador belonged to the then colony of Newfoundland, Isaac de la Penha, the cantor at Montreal’s Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue and one of Joseph de la Penha’s direct descendants, filed a lawsuit claiming Labrador for the family. The case stalled, but was restarted in 1950 by a group of de la Penha’s descendants in Europe and Israel. Nothing came of that, either. Then, in 1983, Daniel de la Penha, a retired physician in South Carolina who was also a descendant, launched a third claim for part of Labrador in the Newfoundland courts. After losing his first challenge, he appealed to the province’s Supreme Court. Alas, Newfoundland chief justice Alex Hickman ruled that de la Penha did not have sufficient proof “that he was entitled to a piece of Labrador.” De la Penha appealed his case to the Supreme Court of Canada, but the court refused to consider it.
Determining who was truly the first Jew to call Canada home is a toss up between two entrepreneurial traders: Samuel Jacobs … and Aaron Hart
Jewish immigrants on board the General Sturgis arrive in Halifax in 1948.