In 1947, Prime Minister Mackenzie King permitted a slight loosening of Canada’s stiff immigration policy, paving the way for the Jewish Labour Committee’s Kalmen Kaplansky, Moshe Lewis and Bernard Shane to spearhead the “Tailors Project.” Employing Jewish refugees in Canada’s textile industry, the Tailors Project was an initiative within the 1947 federal bulk labour program designed to stimulate the Canadian economy by soliciting skilled labour from European displaced persons.
Despite the fact that over one-quarter of displaced persons in Europe were Jewish, the prevailing anti-immigrant and antisemitic attitudes at the time meant that only 12 percent of those admitted to Canada were Jews. Thus, when Ottawa approved the admission of 2,136 tailors (when approximately 3,100 had been selected by the Jewish Labour Committee), the government also stipulated that only half of these workers could be Jewish. The challenges to the project continued in Europe. Bernard Shane and Maurice Silcoff (also of the Jewish Labour Committee) were named as colonels in the Canadian Army in order to operate in postwar Europe to select refugees from displaced persons’ camps to immigrate to Canada. Despite the difficulties, the project created new avenues for Jewish immigration to Canada. The Tailors Project and the parallel Orphans Project accounted for 20 percent of Jewish immigration to Canada in the late 1940s.
The vast majority of these refugees settled in Montreal and Toronto, which had the infrastructure most able to absorb new immigrants. Two other organizations, also with headquarters in Montreal, collaborated on the project with the Jewish Labour Committee: the Canadian Jewish Congress provided valuable lobbying and financial assistance and the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society (JIAS) arranged accommodations such as housing and transportation for the tailors and their families.
Compiled by Sarah Woolf
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*Images courtesy of Canadian Jewish Congress Charities Committee National Archives.