Montreal's Jewish neighbourhood of Papineau


About Papineau

Here are five stories about Papineau. The first is an account by Philip Teitelbaum. The following four appeared in the Yiddish newspaper, the Keneder Odler (Canadian Eagle). These were translated to English by David Rome in Through the Eye of the Eagle, the Early Montreal Yiddish Press. Thanks to Shannon Hodge, archivist at the Jewish Public Library Archives, who has been very helpful in locating stories and photos.
Philip Teitelbaum (2007) It was called Papineau because that was the main street and had a streetcar. People took that streetcar to get downtown. The kids would roam as far west as Christophe Colombe. I went to Earl Grey school on Christophe Colombe, after Amherst School. Then to Baron Byng. We walked of course to Earl Grey, but we walked through a quarry which was a kind of shortcut, called Martino's quarry. We lived on Marquette and could walk through there and fields to Earl Grey school. Cartier Street was full of Jewish people, Papineau Street - lots of Jewish people. Marquette still lots. Fabre Street - Rabbi Denberg lived on Fabre Street. My father roomed there before we came over. Still the same block between Beaubien and St Zotique. There were less Jews north or south of those two streets. East of Cartier was Chabot, and I would say there were pretty well no Jewish people there. People moved all the time. Every May the 1st, people would move! I don't know why. The bedroom I slept in, I slept with Mutty. It wasn't even a bed, it was called a "lunsj", a lounge. I remember lying in that bed, the wall was blue and you could scrape ice from the wall in winter. The toilet had a box above and you pulled the chain. And we always used newspaper, shredded up. My father, being a milkman, would wrap the milk in newspapers so it didn't freeze. So he always brought home a lot of newspapers. Me and Harry would spread them out and find the pictures of hockey players from the Montreal Canadiens and the Montreal Maroons and cut them out. We loved hockey.
A Walk in Papineau, by BJ Goldstein (under the name Reb Boruchel), June 5, 1910 "[I had long intended to go to Papineau], but it is a long and complicated trip, with several cars constantly changing direction. (But) the hope never died in me to go to the legendary Papineau. The very 'niou' ending of the name was exciting. At home when they added a 'niou' to a person's name it indicated that he was a special person. The wondrous tales they tell of Papineau, of the goats that lived on tres there, that [the stranger will not touch money on the street, but nails and boards must be kept in safes]... You need to post a detachment of soldiers to guard them and even then you are not secure. Another spoke of Papineau as a Jewish realm, and children born there had to be taken to the city to see a French Canadian or an Irishman. But a third witness testified that there are more French than Jews there and that their rascals get into fights with our Jews on the street when they find weaklings. A bluffer told me that there are two moons to be seen every night in Papineau and that the sky is so low that people must walk bent over. (...) Another told me that Jews never quarrel there, and that the trees are always red with black leaves. I advise my readers to go to Papineau to drink milk there, eat latkes, and they will be my friends for life. 'How do you like our Papineau? Come on in and see it from the inside.' He brouyght me to his poultry, his garden where all that is good grows luxuriantly, and explained every variety; 'These are berries, and these are vines, genuine grapes, only the chicken pulls them down; we planted onions here and potatoes.; 'They have an evil decree here; we are not allowed to work on Sundays. If you drive a nail in on that day, you can be martyred, and fined $20, that thief America, not even a single nail. So it took us longer; within the week you will have a fortress here,' as he shows me where the bedroom will be, where the front room and where the kitchen. Another resident complained, 'We met fifteen times and decided to put up a small synagogue. A community must have a sacred place where they can have something of a minyan, where we can quarrel and sometimes even slap around a bit.' They have forgotten that they have laid a foundation, that they have already invested some $150, and now are begging outside Papineau. One Mr Lazar longs for a synagogue of his own where he could pour out his heart in prayer for a good year, pour out his heart to the Creator of the Universe and, if necessary, poke the parnas in the ribs because he injects some Torah teachings without authority. Yet I had to promise him to do something to realize his project."
Papineau District, by E. Boulay, November 28, 1911, translated to Yiddish by journalist and historian B.G. Sack "Recently I took the Amherst street car, transferred at St Jean de Berchmans up Papineau Road where, I knew, there was an important Jewish settlement. Some told me the area was called St Jean de Berchmans, others Rossland, but I think it is generally known as Rosemount. Clearly there are many Jews there; more than 200 families set up their homes in this new centre of activity, (...) Their families are not small, [no different from our French Canadian families.] Their children play happily near their poor, small homes; not exactly palaces but their children are satisfied. These Jews have opened groceries and other small stores,and new buildings have sprouted nearby honouring the Jewish spirit of enterprise and exemplary economy. Most of them arrived here without money, but they managed to acquire land by virtue of their patience and energy; and to set up their homes; some of them are still being built, Wilder, the owner of the furniture store, was one of the thirty-four pioneers of Rosemount. I wish my French Canadians followed their example in enterprise. It leads us to speculate whether this race is truly indestructible. It might well have sunk under the weight of persecution during centuries. The Jews of Rosemount, but a few miles from the city, can in fact live the life of the village. Many of their homes may not have been built artistically; the interiors of others may not be complete, but they all feel at home. The residents are nearly all property owners; they are attached to their nests. They act as in families. unceremoniously, in accordance with custom, with common openness and sympathy. There is no polish here. The Jewish ladies of Rosemount do not hesitate to go to the well for water.(...) They live amicably with their Christian neighbours. There is a measure of mistrust because they do not know each other well. But peace will reign if our anti-semitic sectarians will not plant their poison here. The Catholics have a church and a school here, and the Jews have a fine synagogue and are building another. I only regret that I cannot speak to them in the language of their ancestors. I would wish to hear the secret of their success in their mother tongue, but with my poor English I could at best feel the sense of their heart.
Papineau Road, by Dr Ezekiel Wortsman, Nov 13, 1910 "Papineau Road is a suburb of Montreal, the capital. It has no running water, sewers, light, no health or life... Yet this community already had two communities with the resounding titles, Chaverim Kol Israel (All Jews Are Comrades), and the Tifereth Israel, (Glory of Jerusalem). We report on two congregations already, but before writing this editorial this settlement may acquire a third, possibly the 'Extension of the Berdichev Congregation' or a fourth, the 'congregation of all Israel are Enemies,' and before this is printed Papineau may have a fifth, the 'Congregation of the Observers of Tuesdays', and so on. For Papineau already had two hundred Jews and, with our growing population we might acquire another five Jews, and if Mr A is president and Mr B is babe and Mr C is treasurer are D and E, and etc lesser persons? All this is no joke, for we lack words for this form of Jewishness. We had believed that when Jews will leave the lands where they had been depreived of civil and human rights, where they had been confined to ghetto politics, when these Jews came to these free lands, where they can enjoy all freedoms, they will rise above the village pettiness, to a vivid sense of life, and a further and more interesting range. Yet it appears that they have transplanted the quarrels of Eishishock and are bringing our entire city to shame for reasons of vanity and parish pump dissidence. 'Leaders' of one congregation on Papineau Road come to us to malign the members of the other; then those from the latter visit us to tell us all that is evil about the first. Who needs two synagogues in the Kingdom of Papineau? We may accept that they need a chapel there for undisturbed prayer; but why two, to waste money and energy and power for victory, when one is too many? Yes, power, a curse that is not mentioned in the Bible. Everybody seeks to teach the other a lesson, to prove his strength. Judaism does not interest either party in Papineau any more than the snow of yesteryear. If it were otherwise, they would first put up a class for children where they would teach a word of Yiddish, about our great past; they would set up a club where they could read a paper after work, discuss communal affairs. Instead they multiply synagogues to quarrel about cantors and chicken killers (shokhtim). Is this how Judaism blossoms in Canada?"
Papineau Synagogue, by Hirsch Wolofsky (under the name of Yankel Shmid), November 27, 1910 "If you out a copy of the Odler between them, you could not spread it out, (...) They have no money(...) but they bought to lots at $500, and the members are busy cutting boards and banging nails as smoke arises, so in short order they will have a synagogue. But matters cannot rest so easily; last Sunday, Rabbi H Cohen and other Montreal dignitaries were called out to celebrate the initiation of the construction of 'All Israel are Comrades (Chaverim Kol Israel) Congregation. I'll tell you how you get there. You take a streetcar and change to another car, then to a smaller car, then to a large car where a smaller car awaits you with a sign, 'To Jerusalem', the sign is not yet made, but it should be; it will take you to Papineau. Let me tell you my view of our Papineau comradeship; Papineau is growing, and there will be as much gold there as there is mud there now, and a third congregation will arise. The 'Searchers for Peace Congregation', exactly between the two, and the Searchers will search for peace until they break the walls to the other two and will rename the new structure the 'Great Chapel of Papineau', and to appease the two synagogues, the new congregation will be called 'Tifereth Jerusalem Chaverim Kol Israel, the Searchers for Peace and the Great Chapel of Papineau.' I would therefore advise the candidates for the presidency of the large synagogue (and who does not want to be a candidate?) to memorize its name, for is it appropriate for a president to open a meeting as je stutters at pronouncing its name?"