This Jewish Farm Colony was formed and settled under the Jewish Colonization Association founded by Baron Maurice de Hirsch, a German Jewish financier and philanthropist, to help the plight of Jews fleeing from Russian and Polish persecution, where waves of pogroms (attacks against Jews) plaqued the Jewish people of Eastern Europe. Starting in 1892 Jewish families who emigrated were settled by the Jewish Colonization Association at Hirsch, about 18 miles east of Estevan. The Colony, the first in Canada to be established by the Association, was named for its founder and benefactor, Baron de Hirsch.
Even before the first synagogue was built the early settlers were setting aside land for a cemetery. In Hebrew religion and custom, the dead of the community are afforded great respect and a proper cemetery must be built before other needs are attended too. Accordingly, in the first year of the settlement in 1892, a colonist named Mr. Blank paced off an acre of his quarter section for the cemetery. Almost ninety years later descendants, neighbours and friends of the Hirsch Colonists attended the consecration and designation of the Hirsch Cemetery as an historic site.
The population grew steadily as the settlers applied themselves to the task of breaking land and planting crops. However, a high percentage of the original colonists found work as traders, tailors, peddlers and storekeepers. They came as farmers and were ready and willing to give it a try but if it didn't work they were prepared to do something else. Nevertheless, most of the original settlers persisted and gradually Hirsch grew into a respectable community. There were three stores, a hotel and a school serving about two hundred residents.
In later years, Mr. Alec Muscovitch, who was a former Hirsch farmer discovered early records of the cemetery and compiled its history in order to convince the provincial and federal governments and the Canadian Jewish Congress to care for the cemetery. His brother Irwin was instrumental in erecting the wrought iron gateway with the Jewish Star of David affixed to it and the words "Hirsch Jewish Cemetery". Unfortunately, ill health prevented Alec from seeing the culmination of the work he began. However, Alec's two sons, represented their father. The keys and records of the cemetery were then presented to the Canadian Jewish Congress on behalf of the Muscovitch brothers. Almost ninety years later descendants, neighbours and friends of the Hirsch Colonists attended the consecration and designation of the Hirsch Cemetery as an historic site.
The headstone of 94 year old Michael Schopp was the last to join the ranks. That prayer was the last delivered in the 88 year old cemetery as there can be no more burials. The headstones face east towards Jerusalem. The grave markers, some of them crumbling and leaning at precarious angles will be repaired but the cemetery will be left much as it is today, for time to come. About 100 descendants, neighbours and friends of the former Jewish farm community of Hirsch had gathered under a sunny cloudless June sky to witness this dedication.
After the dedication, there was a reception hosted by the last Jewish couple in Estevan at the time, Gertie Lev and Morris Lev. Here they revived old memories with tales from the past of what was once a thriving, farmland community and pay homage to their collective roots. Thus, a small but significant piece of Saskatchewan history was officially recognized and duly honoured.
The Hirsch Jewish Cemetery, now a historic site, can be found along Highway 18 just west of Hirsch and only a 30 minute drive east of Estevan.