October 11, 2016 — Montréal’s Jewish community comes from all over the world. The first Jewish residents were merchants and traders arriving from Britain after the British Conquest of 1760, followed by poorer Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jews fleeing hardship and oppression in the early 20th century. Arriving in the city with few resources, but a rich Yiddish culture of their own, they settled along St-Laurent Boulevard (“The Main”) and worked in the garment industry or started small family businesses, many of which are now Montréal icons. Since the 1950s, Jews from North Africa, Iran, Russia, and many other areas of the world have made their homes in Montréal, and the artistic, literary, and culinary achievements of Montréal’s Jewish community are a vital part of the city’s spirit and identity.
Voices of the community
Leonard Cohen and Mordecai Richler, two of Montréal’s most well-known writers, both have their roots in the Jewish community here. Their works evoke what the Plateau and Mile End would have been like in the thirties and forties, and the religiosity of Montréal’s streets, lined with churches and synagogues. But there are also other Jewish artists – as the author, J.I. Segal, and the painter, Ghitta Caiserman-Roth – whose art explored Montréal’s streets, factories, and of course, the mountain.
Iconic Montréal foods
Two iconic Montréal foods, smoked meat and bagels, are Montréal variations of traditional Ashkenazi foods. There are many delis in Montréal, but Schwartz’s, founded in 1928, is definitely the most famous. The line to eat inside may be long, but it’s possible to get take out smoked meat and eat in Jeanne-Mance park, only a couple blocks away. Once known as Fletcher’s Field, this park was a favorite meeting place for the Jewish community in the early 20th century.
Montréal bagels are unique : they are hand-rolled and baked in a wood-fired oven. There’s a famous rivalry between Fairmount Bagel and St. Viateur Bagels, which is just a couple streets away.
If you want to do more than just eat all this delicious food, venture a little further out into Montréal’s west end. You’ll find the Segal Centre for Performing Arts and the Montréal Holocaust Memorial Centre, which tells the story of the Holocaust through the stories of Montréal survivors.