Happy Canada Day! Every July 1, the United States’ neighbors — or, as they would write, “neighbours” — up north come together and celebrate the anniversary of when Canada received their independence from the United Kingdom. While I live in Massachusetts now, I am originally from Canada myself, from a city named Winnipeg in the province of Manitoba (fun fact: Winnipeg sometimes gets colder than Mars).
While Canada Day is a celebration for many, the creation of Canada was and continues to be a loss for Indigenous people. This year, people are occupying Victoria Park, calling for the cancelation of the holiday, and on the country’s 150th anniversary in 2017, Indigenous people protested #Canada150 and Canada Day celebrations.
That being said, it’s as good an excuse as any to talk about some prominent Canadian Jews. So in hono(u)r of Canada Day, here is a list of Jewish entertainers you might not have known are from up north. Canada Day is also a perfectly good excuse to binge-watch Schitt’s Creek and Degrassi: The Next Generation, excellent Canadian exports which feature some people on this list.
1. Eugene, Dan, and Sarah Levy
I truly do not know what Jewish pop culture would look like now without the impact of the binge-worthy television show Schitt’s Creek. Created by father and son team Eugene and Dan Levy, and also featuring Dan’s sister Sarah, this show is one of the best shows to watch during terrible times.
The Levys had very Canadian beginnings in the entertainment industry, and they have stayed loyal to their roots in Canada. Eugene rose to fame on the Canadian sketch comedy show Second City Television, and he was even appointed to the Order of Canada – the second highest honor a Canadian can receive for their accomplishments, akin to the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom – in 2011. Dan started his television career on the Canadian television show Degrassi: The Next Generation in a small role, and he is the host of The Great Canadian Baking Show. Sarah’s first notable acting role was as Eli in Larry Crowne, and she was her dad’s assistant while shooting Cheaper by the Dozen 2.
— The Great Canadian Baking Show (@cbcbakingshow) November 8, 2018
What I appreciate about the Levy family — in real life and on Schitt’s Creek — is that they are an interfaith Jewish family. As someone who has a Protestant parent and a Jewish parent, I definitely relate to Dan’s tweet below.
— dan levy (@danjlevy) December 9, 2012
If you’re missing Schitt’s Creek, I highly recommend watching this clip from when Eugene and Dan Levy guest-hosted The Ellen Show.
Drake may be best known for his rap career now, but for fans of Degrassi: The Next Generation, he will always be Jimmy Brooks. If you skip to 0:50 in this video, you can hear Drake, then still credited as Aubrey Graham professionally, rapping as his character Jimmy.
A Toronto native, Drake is a global ambassador for his hometown basketball team, the Toronto Raptors, and is a Jewish dad. Drake was raised by his white Jewish mom and attended a largely Jewish public high school. Oh, and if you want to know what his bar mitzvah was like, watch Drake relive it in this SNL clip.
3. Seth Rogen
Comedian Seth Rogen had a very Jewish upbringing. Hailing from Vancouver, Rogen said in an interview with Alma that he went “to a Jewish elementary school and so [he] was completely surrounded by Jews up until [he] was 12 or 13.”
After rising to fame in stoner comedies, Rogen and his father were honored by the Workers Circle in late 2019 for their contributions to Jewish culture. Rogen also co-wrote Superbad, Pineapple Express, The Green Hornet, and This Is The End, and co-directed the film The Interview with his bar mitzvah classmate Evan Goldberg.
4. Neve Campbell
If you are looking for a reason to Scream with joy, you may be in luck, because actress Neve Campbell is also a Canadian Jew. Prior to playing Julia in Party of Five, Campbell was actually training at Canada’s National Ballet School until an injury sidelined her.
Campbell’s ancestors were Sephardic Jews who converted to Catholicism after moving to the Netherlands. “I am a practicing Catholic, but my lineage is Jewish, so if someone asks me if I’m Jewish, I say yes,” Campbell has said.
For the past 30 years, the musician Peaches has pushed boundaries through her music. Her sexually explicit music and performance art, as well as critiquing the binaries of gender, helped her gain an international following.
Peaches first rose to fame as part of the folk trio Mermaid Café, and the group played the Jewish summer camp circuit in the early 1990s. “We sang about how to relate to gay feelings in the Jewish community and about Jewish camp friendships,” Peaches said at an Art Gallery of Ontario event.
While it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, check out Peaches’ music video for her single “Vaginoplasty.”
6. Victor Garber
Victor Garber has starred in so many classic movies and television shows it’s almost hard to keep count of how many. From Titanic to Legally Blonde, he also guest-starred on one episode of the uber Canadian Jewish show, Schitt’s Creek (see above!).
In an interview with the Canadian website Forever Young, Garber describes his Russian-Jewish parents’ reactions to him wanting to be an actor. “As a Jewish parent, my father Joseph was a little less enthusiastic because he worried I wouldn’t be able to make a living,” Garber said
He’s also one of the reasons his Alias co-star Jennifer Garner is staying home during the pandemic.
JENNIFER GARNER STAYS HOME FOR VICTOR GARBER AND SHE’LL PRINT IT ON HER LASERJET SWEETIE pic.twitter.com/meNRGfXPf9
— jamieloftus 🏂 (@jamieloftusHELP) March 25, 2020
7. Finn Wolfhard
Did you know that Mike Wheeler from Stranger Things is played by someone with Jewish heritage? Now you do! Finn Wolfhard originally hails from Vancouver and his family has a mixed cultural background.
In an article at Vulture, Wolfhard discussed the confusion that can come with being from a multi-cultural background. “What’s funny is I’m German, but then I’m like French — I’m French and German and then Jewish. It’s really weird,” Wolfhard said. “And then I go to Catholic school, which is really weird.”
Wolfhard’s older brother Nick is also an actor, who voices the character Jack on the Netflix show The Last Kids on Earth.
8. Jay Baruchel
You may not recognize Jay Baruchel’s name, but you’ll definitely recognize his voice. Baruchel voiced the character Hiccup in the How to Train Your Dragon series. He was raised in Montréal, and Baruchel’s grandfather was a Sephardic Jew.
In extremely stereotypical Canadian fashion, Baruchel wrote the book Born Into It: A Fan’s Life about his love of the hockey team the Montreal Canadiens.
9. Leonard Cohen
Without a doubt, one of the most famous Canadian Jewish musicians/poets is Leonard Cohen. Born and raised in Montreal, Cohen learned to play the guitar while at camp when he was 15.
Cohen’s music, which feels like lyrical poetry, and his grappling with faith is best captured by his most iconic song, “Hallelujah.” Somewhat surprisingly, the song did not enter the Billboard Hot 100 until after his death in 2016.
Jews may also recognize some of the lyrics from Cohen’s song “Who By Fire” from “Unetanneh Tokef,” the traditional prayer chanted on Yom Kippur.
10. Emmanuelle Chriqui
Emmanuelle Chriqui, also from Montréal, was raised by Moroccan-Jewish parents in an Orthodox Jewish household. Chriqui played Sloan McQuewick in the television show Entourage and played Jewish actor Adam Sandler’s love interest in the movie You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.
In an interview with the Atlanta Jewish Times, Chriqui said keeping Jewish tradition was increasingly important for her after losing her Jewish parents. “I think in my quest for spirituality, I found a lot of answers in it. I really just have a deep appreciation for it,” Chriqui said.
11. Norma Shearer
Norma Shearer was the first Jewish woman to win an Academy Award when she won for Best Actress for her role in The Divorcee. Shearer was born in Canada to parents of Scottish, English, and Irish descent.
Shearer converted to Judaism before she married Jewish film producer Irving Thalberg, and she became one of the most popular actresses in Hollywood. From 2006 to 2008, the Canada Post sold stamps of Shearer as part of their Canadians in Hollywood series.
While it is amazing on its own that Shearer became the first Jewish woman to win an Academy Award, she also became a feminist icon in film. According to historian Mick LaSalle in the book Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-code Hollywood, Shearer was “the first American film actress to make it chic and acceptable to be single and not a virgin on screen.”
Header Image photos: flags by Julia August/iStock/Getty Images Plus; Dan Levy by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for MTV; Emmanuelle Chriqui by Rodin Eckenroth/WireImage; Seth Rogen by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.