1807: Ezekiel Hart & Other Quebec Curios

Part of “The Canadas in Britain”, 1792-1827

Ezekiel Hart. Ezekiel Hart.

Jean-Paul Sartre once stated in one of his writings that “if the Jew did not exist, the Anti Semite would create him”. Considered the great unknown minority enemy from within, unfortunately, the Canadas were not exempt from this hatred born of ignorance. Antisemitism rose its ugly head one April day in 1807, when the people of Trois-Rivières ended up electing a Jew to the Assembly in Lower Canada.

Ezekiel Hart was a prosperous businessman with British sympathies and was in the political race towards the Legislative Assembly in Lower Canada. Winning 59 votes out of 112, he obtained the majority needed to gain a spot in the Assembly. The oath of office at the time required people to swear as a Christian, but Hart, a Jew, would not be able to do so. Instead, he swore an oath with a head covering and under a Hebrew bible, replacing the word “Christian” with “Jew”.

This act was seen as outright rebellion. Hart was subject to much criticism in an anonymous letter posted in Le Canadien, a French reader asked, “What right does a Jew who thinks only about himself and his sect can force himself to take on and watch over the interests of a whole people? and with what reasoning should we expect that such a man will attend to the good of the public?” The sentiment was echoed within the Legislative Assembly, who refused Hart taking part in the normal voting and sitting in the Assembly due to the fact he was Jewish, and he was forced out in a hunt lead by his opponent, Thomas Coffin. The Assembly passed a bill saying that Hart would not be able to sit or vote in the Assembly, a bill supported by a young Louis-Joseph Papineau. Contrary to what other sources say, one of his colleagues, James Henry Craig, was not sympathetic to him and bluntly told him that even as a colonial administrator, he (Craig) could do nothing to change Hart’s expulsion.

Hart was kicked out and new elections were held shortly after. Trying his luck again, Hart would run in this next election and once again won the support of his fellow community members in Trois-Rivières. The second time around, he took the oath as a Christian, but his past would come back to haunt him: just days after he was able to sit in the Assembly, his colleagues expulsed him once again due to the fact that the first time around, Hart had taken the oath as a Jew. Unwilling to run for office anymore, Hart would return to his commerce a nonetheless well-respected and liked man in his community and would serve as an officer in the War of 1812.

The fight for political and social rights of the Jewish minority in the Canadas would be continued with Hart’s sons. Papineau himself would have a change of heart on the matter (no pun intended), and would be instrumental in the eventual granting of these rights in 1830. Hart himself would be able to live to see the new political freedoms being put into place. He died in 1843 in the same place he was born, in Trois-Rivières. The day of his funeral, his community closed all commercial places and he was given honours by the military.

Get that warm and fuzzy feeling by watching the Heritage Minute about Hart and Papineau here. Alternatively, read Le Canadien’s very typical views of the time about Hart and his people here.