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The  Vanished Jewish Farming Community of Edenbridge in Western Canada

            Three hundred and seventeen kilometres north of Regina Saskatchewan, out on the empty flat Canadian prairie, is the Beth Israel Synagogue of Edenbridge. This region is the one of best wheat-growing areas in the world, although that fact was unknown to the philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch when he established the Jewish Colonization Association in London in 1881.

To give Eastern European Jews a chance to escape pogroms, repressive governments, sweatshop toil, and narrow shtetl life, De Hirsch began purchasing tracts of land in North and South America for those wishing to take up farming.

            The colony of Edenbridge was founded by Lithuanian Jews who had settled in South Africa, and Jews from Whitechapel in London who wanted to leave the cramped sweatshops for the freedom they thought farming would give them. A Jewish name was proposed for the colony — Jew’s Town — but this was deemed unsuitable by the Canadian government. Instead,  the name Edenbridge was finally accepted: the community’s private joke was that the word “Eden” was a pun on “Yidden”, and the town’s name was, in reality, Yiddenbridge, or Jew’s Bridge.

            Back then, homesteaders could purchase 160 acres of virgin land for $10.00. If they threw up a house, no matter how temporary, remained in residence for six months of the year over a period of three years, and could show that a reasonable proportion of the ground had been cultivated, they were granted the permanent deed to the land.

In its heyday, Edenbridge spanned both sides of the Carrot River. There were shops, two schools, a secular Jewish teacher, religious classes in Hebrew and Yiddish, a dramatic society, a Jewish newspaper, many clubs, a library, and a theatre. The Beth Israel Synagogue was built in 1906. There were, of course, the usual problems. Because distances between Edenbridge and far-flung farms were so great, Jews coming to the synagogue for the high holidays, had to sleep on the floor at night. It was also difficult mixing the day's modern free-thinking Jews with those who were Old Country Orthodox.

            Today, there is no trace of Edenbridge. The shops, the schools, the library, and the theatre have all vanished; the once-beautiful wooden farmhouses have been demolished. All that remains is the graveyard and the beautifully-maintained Beth Israel Synagogue with its wooden walls that gleam like gold in the early morning sun. When the synagogue ceased to function in 1964, the surrounding land was donated to the Saskatchewan Wildlife and Trust Fund. It has become a home to wildlife, in perpetuity.

from Finding Home in the Footsteps of the Jewish Fusgeyers by Jill Culiner


The  Vanished Jewish Farming Community of Edenbridge in Western Canada
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