Episode 62: The Mystery of Esther Brandeau

In 1738, a young Christian man stepped off a boat in the French colony of Quebec and was doubly outed as a Jew and a woman. Esther Brandeau was born around 1718 in Saint Esprit, a Jewish community on the outskirts of Bayonne, France. Brandeau was the first documented Jew to have set foot on Canadian soil, but she didn’t stay long. Historian and performing artist Heather Hermant tells the story for Can We Talk? and for JWA's revised and updated edition of the Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women.

Released June 1, 2021
  • Record of the interrogation of Esther Brandeau, a young Jewish woman who "embarked at La Rochelle, as a passenger, in a boy's clothes, under the name of Jacques Lafargue, on the ship the Saint-Michel," captained by Sieur Sallaberry. Signed Varin. September 15, 1738. Via the Library and Archives of Canada.

  • Heather Hermant in ribcage:   this wide passage / thorax : une cage en éclats, a performance piece about the experiences of Esther Brandeau / Jacques La Fargue. It was directed by Diane Roberts, with live music by Jaron Freeman-Fox. Video still by Shahin Parhami. Copyright Heather Hermant.

  • Minutes of the interrogation of Esther Brandeau
  • Heather Hermant Performing

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Episode 62: The Mystery of Esther Brandeau." (Viewed on September 26, 2023) <https://jwa.org/podcasts/canwetalk/episode-62-mystery-esther-brandeau>.


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