Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Jewish Question in Montreal Schools 1903-1913

A detail of 1914 Summer School for Teachers in Lachute. Edith is there. And likely some Jewish girls too.

Well, I attended an elementary school in Montreal called Royal Vale and my particular class was comprised mostly of Jewish kids and yet it has taken me to this day, 45 years, to learn about why this was. Imagine, why didn't they just teach it in school?

Apparently, it was in 1903, two years before Marion Nicholson went to McGill Normal School, that it was decided that Jewish children could be educated in the Protestant system. And it wasn't until 1913, the year my Flo in the City novel comes to an end, that the Protestant Board agreed to allow Jewish teachers into the system, although at their discretion and it was stipulated, these teachers would not be allowed to teach the scriptures. (Hmm, there were two dissenters, one an Alderman Fraser. Is this the same guy who pleaded so eloquently against the heavy tax on street vendors, most of whom were Greek, Syrian and Italian?)

Jewish children were only allowed to attend the Protestant schools in 1903 so long as the Protestant system "would remain unchanged with regard to its religious character and constitution, believing that any change would have the ultimate effect of destroying the Christian character of the schools."
(In the 60's, my elementary school was pretty secular, although on my first day I was brought up to the head of the class to read a piece from the Bible, and it was very embarrassing, as I couldn't read. (It was November and I had just come from Labrador and I had not attended Kindergarten.) I recall the passage, "They who go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters." My teacher whispered the words in my ears. (What a way to make a kid self-conscious on her first day EVER at school!)

Of course, I was a little pagan. Anyway, I also recall that there must have been prayers or something at the start of class, because one girl, a Jevhovah's Witness, always left the room, and stood outside. This seemed weird to me. I mean I was a pagan and I stayed in the room. So did the Jewish kids. .. Anyway...)

Somewhere in the Tigholas era, 1908-1909 ish, a Finnie Bill was introduced, that, if I understand it, was to allow Jewish parents to fully participate in the Protestant Board's running. And this, of course, brought out the bigots and such... Some letters to the editor claimed that Jews were unsanitary,which is ironic, as the Jewish families had the lowest incidence of infant mortality in the city, due to superior hygiene...

Anyway, here I learned that the Jewish graduates of McGill Normal School, who couldn't find jobs in Montreal Schools, despite the fact that 30-40 percent of the students were Jewish, were hired to make home visits to new immigrants, "to give instruction to the children in the manners and customs of this country and impress upon the strangers the ideas and principals of Canadian civil and social life and direct them to observe recognized standards in cleanliness, clothing and comfort."

So, I have some important background to my Flo in the City story. No mention, of course, is made of this controversy in the Nicholson letters, http://www.tighsolas.ca/ although Marion and Flo had to have known of it. How will I fit it in? I do not know. A Dr. Barclay, School Board Commissioner, apparently called the Jews Infidels and Thieves, which is interesting because this MAY be the same Reverend Barclay who is a prominent Prebyterian Minister. But I have to double check....Yes, the Canadian Jewish Times has a full account. Rev. Barclay of the Presbyterians softened his accusations by saying that he considers 'the infidel and the thief his brother, but he would not want them teaching his children." He claims to speak for the Anglicans and Methodists too, but Finnie, mocks him saying he only speaks for the Presbyterian clergy. Barclay replies by saying that Lay people and Clergy are represented on the Protestant Board."
Oh, wow. This is interesting with respect to Flo in the City, my novel in progress based on the letters of http://www.tigsholas.ca/