Ruth Levenston: An All-Around Athlete in Vancouver's West End

Posted by jyuhasz

Rose Izen (right) with Joe Fortes (left) and unidentified girl (middle) at English Bay
Rights - JMABC
Levenston, Ruth
Vancouver, BC
Leonoff, Cyril E.
Wednesday, September 18, 1985
Digital audio recording #: 19.85-06
                CL:         So looking back at life in those days what do you have to say about it?
                RL:         I think we’re very lucky, I was very lucky. I lived in the city where my grandmother used to walk from Haro Street down through the forest to Stanley Park and the English Bay, there were no streets. And I was just telling them, looking here out the window, that I went to King George High School. I walked from Denman and Comox where we lived pretty well, all the way up to King George which is Burrard and home for lunch and back up again and back down again. And then after that we would walk along Denman and along Georgia and into Stanley Park and out to Point Grey and play grass hockey for an hour after school. And then walk all the way back. And that’s the kind of, nobody was spoiled in those years because you did those things.
CL:         No.
Unidentified man: And you were taught how to swim by the famous Joe Fortes.
RL:         Oh yes, Old Black Joe [Joe Fortes was a well-loved swimming teacher and lifeguard at English Bay. Many people respectfully called him ‘Old Black Joe’].
CL:         Is that right, eh?
RL:         Yeah, yeah. He taught my aunt, he taught my aunts to swim, he taught me to swim.
CL:         So what were the sports? Grass hockey was popular then?
RL:         I happened to be one of those that was interested in sports. There weren’t too many, I don’t think there were many Jewish girls who were interested in sports. My father had been a baseball player in the United States, so he always taught me…That’s a funny story. I went to Lord Roberts. I was probably the only Jewish girl in Lord Roberts and I was short and fat and not the most popular of all. And this was in the lower grades and baseball was the great game. And so whenever they picked the side, you know, you stood there and you’d be chosen.
Unidentified woman: Yeah right.
RL:         I’d be the last one to get chosen. So, but my father always loved to play ball with, you know, he’d pitch a ball and I’d catch it, because I wasn’t a boy and he was frustrated. So it’s what we did. Anyway, one day the pitcher, something happened to the pitcher so I said, “Well, I’d like to try pitching.” And they sort of laughed, “Ha, ha, ha.” Well, I put a strike out every time I threw a ball.
Unidentified woman: [Laughs].
RL:         Suddenly I became from the least desirable to the most desirable. But that wasn’t the end of the story. We were playing Dawson School and I guess Dawson School was gone by now. You don’t even know where it is, do you?
CL:         That was up here too, wasn’t it?
RL:         Yeah, on Burrard Street.
CL:         I remember, sure.
RL:         We were playing Dawson School and I had never told my father of the success that I had had. I was a little ashamed of it in a way because, you know, [I didn’t want to tell]. I was hot, as hot as you can imagine. Every one of those things was a strike I was putting in. Suddenly, I look up over the fence and who’s standing on the other side…
Unidentified woman: Your father!
RL:         My father. I blew, I couldn’t throw a ball. They put me out in the field again. But no, I always loved sports. Basketball I played for, basketball for high school. I played grass hockey for high school.
Unidentified man: You played it at UBC?
RL:         Yeah, I played basketball for UBC. I loved…Oh, tennis, we used to get up at four o’clock in the morning and walk down to Stanley Park and play for two hours before school and then walk up to school.

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