Professor Friedgut’s book, The Lipton Jewish Agricultural Colony 1901-1951, Pioneering on Canada’s Prairies, deals with the establishment and development of the Jewish Agricultural Colonies in Western Canada as a major event in the immigration of Eastern European Jews to Canada in the early 20th Century.
Between 1890 and 1913, the official Canadian immigration policy was very Eurocentric. The government of the day was interested in encouraging immigrants with Anglo-Saxon cultural backgrounds and not Jews, Germans, Mennonites or Ukrainians. Regardless of the many barriers, thousands of Jews arrived in Canada with help from a varieties of Jewish agencies. It was interesting to read in this publication that single women also headed up homesteads. Not only were Jews not given a warm welcome from the local population but also there was considerable tension between the waves of Jewish immigrants themselves. The Fusgeyers from Romania, amongst the last of the wandering Jews, who were first to arrive in the Lipton colonies in 1901 were viewed very unfavourably by the Ekaterinoslav Russian Jews. They were seen as spending their time playing dominos, eating, telling stories about the “old home”, without farming experience, uneducated, easily demoralized and not interested in physical labour. Fractional bickering over the years did diminish with time.
In 1845, Tzarist officials in Russia reported that Jews “are endowed with a special tendency to complaint and demonstrate bitterness over all sorts of issues”. Perhaps the bickering in the colonies between Jewish groups was merely an reflection of the historical needs of Jews to argue, discuss, criticize and debate absolutely everything.
Isolation was a serious concern to members of the Lipton Colony. Unlike the new Mennonite immigrants, Jews were not permitted to organize in a central village with their farms surrounding them. In an effort to keep connected for practical and personal reasons, families bought homesteads comprising an entire section of land and built their homes where the four corners of the sections met.
These early years on the Jewish Agricultural colonies were very difficult times. Jewish homesteaders were “victims of every possible error and malfeasance.” They were sold inferior livestock, the locals charged inflated prices for supplies and equipment and government administrators were arrogant, hostile, unscrupulous and generally incompetent in their jobs. A major handicap for the homesteaders was that the Lipton Colony was located in the “Palliser Triangle” of south central Saskatchewan which had been considered unsuitable for cultivation since the 1850”s.
Professor Friedgut’s book covers the Lipton Life Cycle from its founding in 1901 by Lithuanian Jews, to the arrival of the railway, the Ekaterinoslav Jews of 1906, through World War I and II to the remaining farms of the 1970’s and 1980”s.
He concludes on a rather positive tone with a discussion which he entitles “What killed Lipton”. The colonization experiment had been not entirely successful, however he points out that it did provide the new Jewish immigrants with a wide range of life experiences. There was an exposure to Canadian life and its customs and gave the new immigrants an opportunity to learn to speak English. This would be an essential asset for their success after leaving the colony when they started a variety of businesses. Based on their challenging farming experiences they learned to make difficult decisions necessary for their survival. After farming their homesteads for three years, which was carefully monitored by government officials, they were allowed to sell their farms. The accumulation of capital while farming enabled families to move into urban settings and establish themselves in towns all over Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.