A rich his­tory is ex­posed

PHO­TO­GRAPHS chron­i­cle the lives of Que­bec Jews, al­ways a small mi­nor­ity

Montreal Gazette - - Front Page - I RWI N B L O C K THE GAZETTE

The pho­to­graph show­ing three fe­male singers, one with an ac­cor­dion, looked some­what fa­mil­iar to Erica Travis.

It was taken in Que­bec City in the mid-1950s, Travis was newly mar­ried, and she was the ac­cor­dion player at a Jewish fundrais­ing event.

“When I look at this pic­ture I have goose bumps – I can’t re­mem­ber be­ing like that,” Travis con­fessed last week as for­mer mem­bers of that city’s small Jewish com­mu­nity gath­ered to rem­i­nisce.

The pic­ture is part of a poster ad­ver­tis­ing the exhibit called Same Cloth, Dif­fer­ent Threads that chron­i­cles the Jewish pres­ence in the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal.

It was pre­pared for last year’s 400th an­niver­sary events in Que­bec, and is on dis­play at the YMYWHA in Snow­don.

Que­bec City never had a huge Jewish pop­u­la­tion – it peaked at about 125 fam­i­lies in the late 1960s to early 1970s – since most im­mi­grants pre­ferred Montreal.

But there was a Jewish pres­ence there, go­ing back to Es­ther Bran­dau, said to be the first to ar­rive in Que­bec in 1738 when she posed as Jac­ques La­farge.

Dis­cov­ered as a Jew, she was given the choice of con­vert­ing to Catholi­cism or leav­ing … and she left.

But oth­ers came, in­clud­ing English mer­chant Aaron Hart, mer­chant and banker Abra­ham Joseph, part of the Hart clan, and Prus­sian-born Sigis­mund Mohr, who helped bring elec­tric­ity and tele­graph lines to the city.

For Travis, it was all about love and mar­riage. It was 1953 and she was vis­it­ing from Is­rael, on leave from the army. She met and mar­ried William Travis in Montreal in 1953 and they moved to Que­bec City. His fam­ily owned and op­er­ated five depart­ment stores.

Like many of her Jewish friends, the fo­cus of com­mu­nity life was at the syn­a­gogue.

“I loved it, it was very friendly, very warm, and for a new­comer I was made to feel very wel­come,” Travis said.

Eleven years later, the fam­ily left be­cause “the chil­dren were grow­ing up, and school­ing and in­ter­ac­tion with other Jewish peo­ple was very lim­ited. We wanted them to live in a big­ger com­mu­nity.”

Ger­ald Weiser was born in Que­bec City, the son of a Ukraine-born fa­ther, who sup­ported the fam­ily as a ped­dler and free­lance pho­tog­ra­pher at Montmorency Falls.

Then he opened a cloth­ing store on St. Joseph St. in Lower Town, where many of the Jew- ish fam­i­lies lived. It was close to the old syn­a­gogue, and Jewish life was cen­tred around it.

“I spoke French be­fore I spoke English. My par­ents spoke Rus­sian and Yid­dish and I learned French on the street, from the neigh­bour­hood chil­dren.”

Weiser and his wife, Jean, left in 1984.

“It was an eerie feel­ing when peo­ple started to leave – the com­mu­nity started to shrink,” Jean Weiser re­flected. “And you knew your chil­dren were go­ing to leave to get their English ed­u­ca­tion. And once the chil­dren left, I felt we had to make a new life and move to a big­ger city.”

Montreal-born Elsie Skol­nik, one of the poster trio, also moved to Que­bec City af­ter she got mar­ried in 1953. She stayed for 25 years.

“My hus­band, Joe Skol­nik, had a fam­ily whole­sale and re­tail busi­ness called Montreal Job­bing,” she said. “We lived in Sillery, we had lovely French­s­peak­ing neigh­bours, and we got along with them ex­tremely well.”

“It was a very nice life, it was easy bring­ing up chil­dren, lan­guage was not a prob­lem – they all learned French by ne­ces­sity.

“We were all very ac­tive in the syn­a­gogue and took part in func­tions – we baked, cooked and sewed, went can­vass­ing for ads for a com­mu­nity tele­phone di­rec­tory. It was a very con­ge­nial en­vi­ron­ment.”

They moved back to Montreal so the chil­dren could con­tinue their ed­u­ca­tion here.

Her chil­dren were de­liv­ered by ob­ste­tri­cian Sa­muel Pol­lack. He was one of four chil­dren of Mau­rice Pol­lack, who went from ped­dler to depart­ment store owner and phi­lan­thropist.

Sa­muel Pol­lack’s daugh­ter Lana Harper was born in Chicago, where her fa­ther did his in­tern­ship, and moved to Que­bec City as a tod­dler.

Harper, who lived in Que­bec City un­til she was sent to a board­ing high school in Bos­ton, re­called one neg­a­tive anec­dote told by her un­cle Charles Pol­lack.

In 1950, Mau­rice Pol­lack built an ul­tra-mod­ern in­ter­na­tional- style depart­ment store on Charest Blvd. where old-timers re­mem­ber a Star of David above the en­trance.

Ac­cord­ing to the anec­dote, then-arch­bishop Mau­rice Roy or­dered him to re­move the sym­bol or the store would be boy­cotted. Pol­lack re­fused.

“They preached in 70 churches not to shop at Pol­lack’s,” Harper said.

In re­sponse, Pol­lack had signs re­moved from de­liv­ery trucks so phone or­ders could be de­liv­ered sur­rep­ti­tiously.

“Grandpa drove the truck and fi­nally an edict was passed to re­scind the boy­cott edict,” Harper said.

Ap­par­ently Pol­lack was not bit­ter, say­ing this was noth­ing com­pared with the vir­u­lent an­tiSemitism in Ukraine that drove hun­dreds of thou­sands of Jews to leave for North Amer­ica.

He pros­pered and even­tu­ally de­voted him­self to phi­lan­thropy, cre­at­ing a foun­da­tion that, among other en­deav­ours, en­dowed a pavil­ion at Laval Uni­ver­sity and cre­ated Pol­lack Hall at McGill Uni­ver­sity.


Sa­muel Frest­man (left) and Gerry Weiser tour Same Cloth, Dif­fer­ent Threads, an exhibit that of­fers a glimpse of Jewish life in the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal.

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