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Multiethnic Saint-Roch

Multiethnic Saint-Roch

Chinese and Jewish Communities in the Lower Town

It was in this part of town—part of which was knocked down to make way for the Dufferin-Montmorency Expressway—that Chinese immigrants made a new home for themselves in the city in the late 19th century. Though few in number, they immediately attracted attention. A small but dynamic Jewish community also took root in the neighbourhood. Rue de Xi’an—a Chinese city twinned with Québec City—is a reminder the city once had a Chinatown.

Des Chinois à Québec

Vers 1910, les Chinois qui habitent et travaillent dans ce secteur forment une petite communauté d’une centaine de personnes.

Les premiers Chinois arrivent en Amérique comme main-d’œuvre bon marché pour construire le chemin de fer à travers les Rocheuses. Certains d’entre eux se déplacent ensuite vers l’est, en ouvrant des restaurants et des buanderies. À Québec, tous les Chinois gagnent leur vie dans ces deux domaines.

The Chinese in Québec City

Around 1910 the Chinese who lived and worked in this part of town formed a small community of around 100.

The first Chinese arrived in North America as cheap labour to build the railways through the Rocky Mountains. Some of them then moved east, working in restaurants and laundries. In Québec City all the Chinese worked in these two lines.

Segregation and integration

The city’s French speakers first gave them a hostile reception. Newspaper reports from the 1900s speak of violence against the Chinese, and in 1910 the National Central Council of Trades discredited Chinese laundries, accusing them of insalubrity and, perhaps worse still, of sending 75% of their profits back to China. The City also intervened to regulate Chinese restaurants, which were open all night and, it was said, had clients of dubious morals.

But by the 1920s, locals and the authorities had grown used to the Chinese. They ran 25 laundries and five restaurants around Carré Lépine (under the ramps of the expressway). The Catholic Church later tried to convert these immigrants by opening a Chinese mission from 1933 to 1968 on rue du Pont, close to the modest Buddhist temple where many Chinese continued to worship.

The act of 1923 outlawing Chinese immigration to Canada contributed to the community’s stagnation in Québec City. It had barely a few hundred men—and no women—in 1951. The community was given a boost by the act’s repeal in 1947 and grew again, slowly but surely, moving to other parts of the city.

Later, Québec City’s famous playwright Robert Lepage would have enough contact with the Chinese community of Saint-Roch for its influence to be felt on his plays.

The Jewish community of Saint-Roch

A new group of Jewish immigrants arrived in Québec City in the early 20th century. Poor, they moved into the area of Saint-Roch beside the railway station. Almost all the 300 Jews took up retailing on rue Saint-Joseph.

Since locals were happy to shop in their stores, most of them prospered and moved to Upper Town in the 1920s and 1930s. By the time the Second World War broke out in 1939, most Jews lived in the Montcalm district and no longer attended the synagogue in Saint-Roch. Plans to build a new synagogue in Upper Town met with strong anti-Semitic opposition, however, although tensions subsided after the war.

The Jewish community’s slow decline

At its peak in 1951, Québec City’s Jewish community had 500 members (compared to 80,000 in Montréal). From then on it was on the constant wane, for want of services like kosher meat and because they had to go to university outside the city. Since Jews could not attend Catholic schools, they went first to English Protestant schools before moving on to the English-language universities in Montréal and other Canadian provinces, where they tended to settle permanently.

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