The History of Bagels
When researching the History of the Bagel there is one common thread that all agree. The legendary beloved Bagel started in Vienna, Austria. The story goes as follows: a Jewish baker, wanting to thank the King of Poland at the Time (yes Poland had a Monarch) for protecting the country from Turkish invaders. He made a special round and hard ‘roll’ in the shape of a riding stirrup. Riding horses was the king’s favorite pastime. A riding stirrup in German is Bugel. Bugel then became …. Bagel! This was in the 17th century, 1683 to be precise and immigration was well on it’s way towards North America!
And that is how Bagels were born! They crossed borders into many Eastern European countries and became a gift to new mother’s for their teething infants, since they get very hard and are easy to grasp, (it is still true to this day!)
When bagels made their way to Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Luthuania and of course Poland; they became bubliki, and they are still sold on strings!
Eastern European Jews came to North America and brought their cherished bagels with them. The New York branch was more organized with an exclusive group of Professional bagel baking craftsmen and many who yearned to have bagel making apprenticeships.
But a different story happened in Canada, specifically Montreal. The legacy of this immigration is that Les Bagels de Montreal has been one of the most successful Jewish foods to be adopted in Quebec.
Montreal bagels, (like their New York Cousins), were brought over to North America by Jewish Eastern European immigrants who baked.
Montreal has two friendly feuding families that both claim the right to who brought the Montreal Style Bagel to Montreal. The story goes that Chaim Seligman brought the recipe here from his hometown, Dvinsk, in Czarist Russia (now Daugavpils, Latvia) and was the first to bake bagels in Montreal. This version of events is verified by Montreal historian Joe King,a historian of Montreal Jewry. Seligman first worked in the Historic Jewish neighborhood of Lachine. Yes, the very same Lachine where Nobel laureate Saul Below lived and where the Saul Bellow Library is named after him!
But Seligman didn’t stay in Lachine, everyone was leaving to the Plateau and Seligman moved his bakery to the lane next to Schwartz’z Delicatessen on Boulevard St Laurent, ( the Main) a once thriving Jewish community and called it the Montreal Bagel Bakery.
“Seligman would string his bagels into dozens and patrol Jewish Main purveying his wares, originally with a pushcart, then a horse and wagon and still later from a converted taxi”
Seligman did start a partnership with Myer Lewkowicz and Jack Shlafman (In another tale, the recipe was brought from Kiev, where Isidore Schlafman’s father had run a bakery). That partnership didn’t last.
Some years later Seligman and Lewkowicz founded the now famous St. Viateur Bagel Shop in 1957. It’s interesting to note that the Shlafman family established Fairmount Bagel in 1919,. As any good Montrealer knows, these 2 rival bagel bakeries still exist today. And they both use the same unique to Montreal way of baking Montreal Style Bagels; it contains malt, egg, no salt, hand-rolled, boiled 1st in honey-sweetened water, then baked in a wood fired oven.
Today, Montreal is famous for our bagels and Les Bagels de Montreal is a shared heritage we can all love!
Joe King. Baron Byng to Bagels: Tales of Jewish Montreal. Montreal. 2006 Pp. 42–43
The Bagels’ Bagel Book by Marilyn and Tom Bagel