An “about us” article I wrote for St-Viateur Bagel, one of Montreal’s most beloved and iconic businesses and, though no longer Jewish-owned, a link to the city’s dynamic Jewish history. In addition to writing this piece, I researched the history of Montreal’s bagel industry and produced a timeline of important events and a bibliography.

St-Viateur Bagel’s rewritten and redesigned website is forthcoming, and I will link to it when it’s up.

A Pocket History of Montreal’s Oldest Bagel Bakery

From Poland to Montreal

When he arrived in Canada in 1953, St-Viateur Bagel Shop founder Myer Lewkowicz didn’t know the first thing about baking anything, let alone bagels. He had grown up in a large, poor family in a Jewish village, or shtetl, near Krakow, Poland. Lewkowicz knew about not having enough to eat. In 1942, he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Buchenwald concentration camp. Years later, while speaking to a high school class, Lewkowicz said, “At Buchenwald, all I dreamt of was a piece of bread.”

Lewkowicz lived and worked in Germany after the war until 1952, when he was discovered by Jewish Immigration Aid Services of Canada. JIAS sent him to Montreal, where he got a job at Hyman Seligman’s Montreal Bagel Bakery. Working with Seligman and his partners, Yankel Drabkin and Isadore Shlafman, Lewkowicz learned the bagel business. It wasn’t too long before he became a partner himself. In 1957, he set up his own shop with Isadore’s son, Jack, but in 1959, Jack quit the bagel business and began working as a cab driver.

A Jewish Tradition Hits the Mainstream

St-Viateur Bagel is Montreal’s longest-running bagel bakery, with several business outlets and customers across North America. But for most of bagel history, the baking and eating of bagels were almost totally Jewish pastimes. Bagels were baked by Jewish bakers and bought by Jewish customers. Even successful, middle-class Jews who’d moved to the tree-lined suburbs far from The Main and Mile End knew to make the drive to St-Viateur to do their bagel shopping.

To read more, download the PDF.

Advertisements