The first Jewish settlers in the area now known as Quebec (but which was referred to as “Lower Canada” by the British) arrived with the British soldiers during the “French and Indian War” (1754-1763). (Jews and other non-Catholics had not been permitted in New France.)
One of four Jewish officers in the British Army, Lieutenant Aaron Hart (born 1724, London, England) had been living in New York. After the war, however, Hart settled in the Canadian town of Trois-Rivières (Three Rivers). This scion of a mercantile family, it was not long before Hart achieved success as a businessman and a landholder. As the Jewish population in Lower Canada grew, Hart became active in the community and was a founding member of Montreal’s Shearith Israel synagogue. Hart was equally blessed in his family life; after his death at age 76, he was survived by his wife, Catherine, four sons and four daughters.
Three of his sons were also fascinating historical figures:
Moses Hart was a successful businessman whose political aspirations continually ended in failure. Although his Jewishness may have kept him from office, his failure at politics may also have been the result of his personal life–his wife left him due to his infidelity, he was excessively fascinated by steam ships, and he published philosophical tracts on Judaism and Deism.
Ezekiel Hart, on the other hand, was very successful in politics. He was elected to the Parliament of Lower Canada in 1807, but, after taking the oath of office on a Hebrew Bible, was made to stand down. When he was elected a second (and third) time, and recited the traditional oath of office, the legislature still pushed him out of office.
Benjamin Hart suffered similar discrimination. The local militia commander felt that Christians could not serve with or under a Jew. During the War of 1812, however, Benjamin served first as a private and eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, a position of which he was stripped when he signed the Annexation Manifesto calling for political union with the United States.
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