Although immigration to Canada between 1919 and 1925 was restricted to newcomers from Canada’s traditional source countries, two exceptions were made: one for the Russian Mennonites, and one for the Jews. The Department of Immigration and Colonization was generally hostile to the idea of admitting Jews, approximately 40,000 Jews succeeded in entering the country during the inter-war period. Most of them were permitted with a special permit. In 1923, the Canadian government agreed to admit 5,000 Jewish refugees who had fled from Russia to Romania between 1918 and 1920. Of this number, 3,040 refugees actually arrived in Canada.
During the Second World War the Canadian government refused to allow Jewish immigrants fleeing the Holocaust to enter this country, with one government official stating that “none is too many” when asked how many Jews would be let into Canada. The most famous example may be the ship, the St. Louis, which was turned away from Canada just before WWII.
In 1939, nearly 1,000 Jews boarded the liner St. Louis out of Hamburg, Germany, bound for Havana, Cuba, seeking freedom from the growing threat of the Nazi regime. But when they approached Havana Harbour, they were shocked to learn their visas were not valid. They were victims of a fraudulent immigration officer in the Cuban government. The international Jewish community contacted country after country but no one would open their doors to the men, women and children of the St. Louis. Canada was their last chance after the United States turned them away. Prime Minister Mackenzie King made the ultimate decision to deny entry. With no other recourse, they began the painful journey back to Germany and certain annihilation. At the eleventh hour, four countries opened their gates, but as the Third Reich invaded three of these nations, only the ones who were received in Britain survived.