Jewish Trivia: Montreal Bagels


Mark Zimmerman, Special For The Jewish Light

Canada has been dealing with a growing truckers’ protest over the last few weeks, which began in response to a vaccine mandate for drivers entering from the United States.

The truckers have been disrupting traffic across the country by parking their rigs on major streets and blocking large intersections, as well as shutting down the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit. This has resulted in major disruption to the automobile manufacturing industry.

Canadian police are now trying to disperse the protesters. The first group of Jews arrived in Canada in 1760, comprising fur traders, merchants and soldiers. The population slowly grew, especially after 1832 when Jews gained full rights as British subjects.

It is estimated that there are roughly 350,000 Jews in Canada today, with the largest concentration in Toronto. One of the most significant contributions of Canada’s Jews is the Montreal bagel, which is very different from the classic New York bagel. Montreal bagels include sourdough, tend to be smaller than New York bagels, and have a larger hole. Most importantly, they are boiled in honey-sweetened water before being baked.

What is one unusual situation where Montreal bagels made an appearance?

A. Astronauts on the International Space Station are allowed to make a “wish list” of food or other items they want to take with them on their extended journey to space. Canadian astronaut Greg Chamitoff chose to bring 18 sesame seed Montreal bagels with him for his 6-month stay on the International Space Station in 2008. It is not known if he also brought cream cheese.

B. Expo 67 was the World’s Fair held in Montreal in 1967, with 62 nations participating in what is still considered one of the most successful world’s fairs ever. The event included a long list of famous entertainers, such as the Supremes, Petula Clark, Thelonious Monk, and the Grateful Dead. Noteworthy visitors to the fair included Queen Elizabeth II, Lyndon B. Johnson, Princess Grace of Monaco, Haile Selassie, Charles de Gaulle, and Marlene Dietrich. Organizers of Expo 67 created gift bags that were handed out to performers, celebrities, politicians and other noted guests. Among the items in the gift bag were bottles of maple syrup, hockey pucks emblazoned with the logo of the Montreal Canadiens, an honorary Royal Canadian Mounted Police badge, and a Montreal bagel.

C. Jewish Canadian rapper Drake held a “Re-Bar Mitzvah” in 2017, which included his participation in Shabbat services followed by a huge celebration attended by celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx and Odell Beckham Jr. During the service, Drake was called to the Torah for an aliyah, after which he was pelted, not with candy as is traditional, but by mini-Montreal bagels that had been distributed to the guests.

D. Queen Elizabeth last visited Canada in 2010. On that trip, Charles Bronfman, the businessman and philanthopist, arranged a visit by the Queen to the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, Canada’s oldest Jewish house of worship, which was established in 1768. At that visit the Queen met with leaders of the Toronto Jewish community and enjoyed a lunch of Montreal bagels with cream cheese and lox.

E. UJA Federation of Greater Toronto sponsors an annual Jewish Day School Hockey tournament, but instead of using a hockey puck, which could be very dangerous for young children, the games are played using Montreal bagels. Seeded bagels, however, are not allowed.