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DE SOLA, CLARENCE ISAAC, businessman, Zionist leader, and author; b. 15 Aug. 1858 in Montreal, third son of Abraham de Sola* and Esther Joseph; m. 16 Oct. 1901 Belle Maud Goldsmith of Cleveland, Ohio, and they had two sons and two daughters; d. 10 May 1920 in Boston, Mass., and was buried in Montreal.

Clarence Isaac de Sola’s father was the first hazan of Montreal’s Jewish congregation of Shearith Israel and his mother was the daughter of Henry Joseph*, one of Canada’s earliest Jewish settlers. De Sola grew up in the city’s fashionable west end. At the High School of Montreal he played lacrosse and football and enjoyed good relationships with his teachers, team-mates, and friends. Although he was at ease in the company of members of the local Protestant establishment, whose outlook, culture, and prejudices he shared, his closest friends were Jewish and were drawn largely from the small group of established families who attended Shearith Israel, the sons and daughters of well-off merchants, manufacturers, and real estate developers.

Following an apprenticeship with Foulds, Taylor, and Company, a non-Jewish firm of dry goods importers which allowed him to be absent on the Sabbath and on all Jewish holidays, de Sola joined his brothers in business as De Sola Brothers and Company, produce and commission merchants, in 1881. About 1887 he became the Canadian agent for the Comptoir Belgo-Canadien, a syndicate of Belgian steel manufacturers and bridge and railway contractors. In addition, he represented British shipbuilding and marine engineering companies which supplied materials for various large-scale bridge, railway, canal, and harbour construction projects in Quebec and Ontario, and he served as director of several steamship companies. Enjoying good connections among the federal Liberals in Quebec, he expanded his business during the tenure in office of Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier from 1896 to 1911. Because of his ties with Belgium, he became that country’s consul in Montreal in 1905, an honour which brought him into contact with federal and provincial politicians, the anglophone élite, and visiting nobility.

While still a youth, de Sola had begun to take an interest in the welfare of the Jewish community in Montreal, which, in the 1880s and 1890s, was undergoing rapid and far-reaching transformation as its population rose by over 170 per cent. In 1881 he helped organize a branch in Montreal of the Anglo-Jewish Association in order to mobilize the city’s Jews to assist those fleeing the pogroms in Russia. The plight of the refugees who arrived in the city moved him profoundly, as would that of the victims of the pogroms in 1903 and 1905 and the dislocations of eastern European Jewry during World War I.

De Sola was fastidiously faithful to the Jewish religion. Throughout his entire life, his diary indicates, he kept the sabbath, ate only kosher food, attended synagogue regularly, taught Sunday school at Shearith Israel, and observed holidays in the Orthodox manner according to Sephardic tradition. His pride in his faith was coupled with a sense of responsibility not only to uphold the Orthodox traditions, but also to combat the forces of internal disunity within North American Jewry, and to promote means to defend against the persecution of Jews abroad.

The Zionist movement was de Sola’s major activity. His philosophy of Zionism adhered closely to the program established at the first Zionist International Congress, held in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897: the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. He was deeply influenced by Theodor Herzl, organizer of the congress and leader of the Zionist movement. Following that congress, Zionist societies sprang up all over Canada. The next year de Sola was elected corresponding secretary of the newly established Agudath Zion (Zionist Society) of Montreal. In 1899 he was chosen president of the Federation of Zionist Societies of Canada, and became its major ideologue and chief spokesman throughout the dominion. Through the federation he would provide Canadian Jewry with its first truly national organization, which became the enduring body for the expression of a distinctive Jewish identity in Canada.

De Sola was impressed by the respect and honours accorded to him in London at the fourth Zionist International Congress in the summer of 1900 and during the private visit he had paid to Herzl in Vienna the preceding June. He kept well informed of events through his correspondence with the movement’s leaders and he frequently embellished his letters and speeches to Canadians with information on the progress of negotiations to secure recognition of Zionist aims. He read the Zionist press of Vienna, Great Britain, and the United States. When the Jewish Times of Montreal became more favourable to Zionism in 1900, he saw this publication as a better vehicle for influencing Canadian Jews.

Strongly in favour of discipline, de Sola believed that Zionism could bring order out of the chaos and disunity which had held back Jews everywhere for many years. He thought that obtaining a legally secured home for the Jewish people in Palestine would enhance the physical and economic development of that homeland, and awaken Jewish national and spiritual consciousness through the development of Hebrew literature and Jewish culture.

Although cognizant of the importance of political Zionism as the beginning of an all-embracing Jewish national revival, de Sola conceived of Zionism in essentially practical terms. The aim of the Zionists was not, in his view, to have all Jews resettle in Palestine but rather “to restore to that country that portion of our race who are at present suffering from persecution, and who, as a consequence, are emigrating and seeking new homes.”

De Sola worked to keep the Canadian movement independent of American Zionists, who were beset by internal dissension and unnecessary duplication of organizations. In 1910 he noted that the “larger [financial] contribution per capita of our population than in any other country” resulted from “the fact that we have insisted all along on the strictest discipline in our ranks, with the result that our organization is strong and united, and schismatics have always found themselves in an utterly hopeless minority.”

Raising money was, in his mind, exactly the kind of work best suited to Canadian Zionists. “Mere ebullitions of sentiment would prove inadequate unless supported by concrete achievements,” he would tell the delegates to the Canadian national convention in January 1911. Given this priority, de Sola was never prouder of the Canadian Zionists than he was in 1910, when at his suggestion they launched the Jewish National Fund to purchase land in Palestine for reclamation and settlement. He took special interest in raising the necessary first $10,000 and he had the federation assume further commitments to purchase land. By the time de Sola resigned from its leadership in 1919, the Zionist movement in Canada had been severely challenged. Events throughout Europe had evoked a strong emotional and financial response from Canadian Jewry. In Canada intercommunal class divisions and conflict in the burgeoning clothing industry as well as the efflorescence of left-wing ideologies had complicated and divided Zionist expression.

Although Zionism was his main interest, de Sola wrote historical and biographical articles on Montreal Jewry for The Jewish encyclopedia . . . (12v., New York and London, 1901–6) and he was a member of the American Jewish Historical Society. He belonged to several Montreal clubs, including the Engineers’ Club, and was a member of the Montreal Board of Trade. He became ill while on a visit to Boston and died there in 1920.

Gerald J. J. Tulchinsky

Central Zionist Arch. (Jerusalem), A 119/200–2, C. I. de Sola to Max Nordau, 28 Feb. 1910. NA, MG 28, V 81, 5: 19; MG 29, C95. Jewish Times (Montreal), 1897–1914. Maccabæan (New York), 20 Jan. 1911. Montreal Daily Star, 17 Oct. 1901. La Presse, 11 mai 1920. W. H. Atherton, Montreal, 1534–1914 (3v., Montreal, 1914). Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912). Directory, Montreal, 1875–87. The Jews, in Canada: a complete record of Canadian Jewry from the days of the French régime to the present time, ed. A. D. Hart (Toronto and Montreal, 1926). Yossi Katz, “The plan and efforts of the Jews of Winnipeg to purchase land and to establish an agricultural settlement in Palestine before World War One,” Canadian Jewish Hist. Soc., Journal (Windsor, Ont.), 5 (1981): 1–16. Louis Rosenberg, Canada’s Jews: a social and economic study of the Jews in Canada (Montreal, 1939; repr. as Canada’s Jews: a social and economic study of the Jews in Canada in the 1930s, ed. Morton Weinfeld, 1993). L. F. Tapper, A biographical dictionary of Canadian Jewry, 1909–1914 (Teaneck, N.J., [1992]). G. [J. J.] Tulchinsky, “Clarence de Sola and early Zionism in Canada, 1898–1920,” in The Jews of North America, ed. Moses Rischin (Detroit, 1987), 174–93.

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Cite This Article

Gerald J. J. Tulchinsky, “DE SOLA, CLARENCE ISAAC,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 15, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/de_sola_clarence_isaac_14E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/de_sola_clarence_isaac_14E.html
Author of Article:   Gerald J. J. Tulchinsky
Title of Article:   DE SOLA, CLARENCE ISAAC
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1998
Year of revision:   1998
Access Date:   June 15, 2024