Bernard Shane was a labour organizer active in the Tailor’s Project. Maurice Silcoff was a union founder and president for decades in Montreal.
Bernard Shane was born in Russia and came to the US in 1906. An organizer for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU), he moved to Toronto in 1934. After the war, he moved again, this time to Montreal, where he found the working standards for women in dressmaking abysmal. The so-called midinettes – from midi (noon) and dinette (short lunch), i.e. the “short-lunches” – were not permitted proper breaks or lunch hours. They might work as much as 80 hours per week in season for as little as $5 – $10 per week, and were then laid off in the quiet season.
In 1947, Shane was active in the Tailor’s Project, as described below. Later on, he served as President of the Jewish Labour Committee.
Born in Dublin, Maurice Silcoff immigrated to Canada in 1910. His parents died soon thereafter of tuberculosis. Raised by distant cousins, Silcoff and his brother went to work at the Acme Hat Company at the age of 12, for about 20 cents per hour. This sensitized the young boy to the tribulations of child labourers and unfair standards. 13 years later, he returned to the Acme Hat Company, but this time as the President of the local Canadian United Hatters, Cap and Millinery Workers Union. He also served as President of the International Leather Goods, Plastics and Novelty Workers’ Union until his retirement at age 80.
Silcoff’s son, Joel, sits on Quebec’s Superior Court.
Silcoff and Shane, along with David Lewis, were active in the Tailor’s Project, a program designed to overcome Canada’s anti-Semitic immigration laws by bringing desperate Holocaust survivors into Canada as much-needed garment workers. Silcoff and Shane were given army positions and authorized to go to the Displaced Persons Camps and choose potential refugees. Although ostensibly a Tailor’s Project, Silcoff and Shane maintained an open definition of “garment worker,” bringing in a good number of musicians, artists, rabbis and intellectuals.
Special thanks to the Museum of Jewish Montreal.
Franklin Bialystok, Delayed Impact: The Holocaust and the Canadian Jewish Community.
Gerald Tulchinsky, Branching Out: The Transformation of the Canadian Jewish Community