Emerson Swift Mahon, born a Christian, left his native Grenada for Canada in 1912 in search of higher education and harboring a deeply-felt interest in Judaism. Two years later, he enlisted in the Canadian army to fight in World War I, and there met a Jewish chaplain named Herman Abramowitz. Eiran Harris writes:
Mahon persuaded Rabbi Abramowitz of his sincere desire to convert, and after a lengthy course of instruction in the intricacies of Judaism, an appropriate test of knowledge, and a religious ceremony, Rabbi Abramowitz signed the conversion certificate.
After the war Mahon settled in Winnipeg and graduated in 1929 with a science degree from the University of Manitoba. . . . Unfortunately, the Depression forced him to accept a job as a sleeping-car porter with the Canadian Pacific Railway. . . . In Winnipeg, Mahon joined Young Judaea, a Zionist youth organization, and quickly rose through the ranks. His work on the railway enabled him to organize chapters throughout Western Canada as well as to photograph every synagogue between Winnipeg and Vancouver.
Mahon also became proficient in Hebrew and Yiddish: “on the way to synagogue on Saturday mornings, it was quite common to observe Mahon urging his children, in Yiddish, to hurry along.”