GL: …So she [Gerald Lecovin’s mother] came out in ‘47 and we lived on Angus Drive, 5975 Angus Drive, which is 43rd and Angus. We lived next door to—what’s the name of the guy, what’s the name of the bridge that goes across the water in Richmond, not the Oak Street Bridge, the other one?
JM: Arthur Laing?
GL: Arthur Laing. We lived next door to Arthur Laing. [Laughs]. And he was our next door neighbour and at that time was head of the BC Liberal Party although at that time he never, they were never in power while he was alive. And I went to Magee High School. I started in grade—you too? Oh, great—I started in, I guess it was Grade 10 and at the time because of one machination and another I was about two years younger than everyone else. So I was a little past 13 when I went to Magee and I was very short and in fact when they, when my mother took me to register me at Magee, they said, “No madam, you have the wrong school, you want the school kitty corner,” which of course was Maple Grove, which was a public school. I was more that size. But I was duly registered, and the principal, having a great sense of humour, decided he would marry me up with someone who’d take me around and show me the ropes and things like that ‘cause, you know, I was an out-of-towner and everything. And he brought in a fellow called Jack Nelson, and Jack Nelson was six foot five, and we built up a friendship and thereafter were known as Mutt and Jeff, and I don’t know if you remember the old comics of the ‘30s and ‘40s, but there was this couple Mutt and Jeff, he was very tall and the other guy was very short. And we eventually became, they decided to open up a tuck shop at Magee, to sell pop and things like that, and we took it over, and so we were a well known couple at the school. The Jewish community then was essentially divided between, I think the divisional line was perhaps either Oak Street or Cambie. The ‘haves,’ the people who had, the upper middle class, lived on this side, and the lower middle class lived on the other side. Most of the kids my age who were Jewish went to Magee, a few went to Prince of Wales, maybe the odd one went to the other schools, depending on where the parents lived, but those were the big enclaves, and on the eastern side most of the Jewish kids went to King Ed. And, so that was sort of, a kind of a division. The Jewish kids pretty well, I would say, they kept to themselves, where we were, they associated with themselves most of the time, although they were active in sports and other things.
ID: And what about your teachers? Were there any of your teachers that were outstanding that you remember in high school?
HL: In high school, yes, there was….
ID: That influenced you in your future?
HL: One, two teachers actually were outstanding. One was a younger woman who taught math and taught algebra and geometry. I loved geometry and I just ate it up and that was very easy for me. And the other one who was outstanding was somebody called Miss Brandon and she was much older and she taught English and French and I thought she was outstanding because by the time I went to university and took the first year French I really had learned most of that in Grade 12 and so that was relatively easy.
ID: Harold, I used…we used to have Miss Brandon as our French teacher, French and English teacher. Well, she taught everything, in Cupar.
ID: Yes and when she left Cupar I guess she went to Kamsack. Can you believe we had the same teacher, that’s amazing!
HL: I thought she was outstanding.
ID: And what about Jewish education? Was there an opportunity for that in Kamsack?
HL: Yes, well you know at one time there were approximately 35 Jewish families in Kamsack, that’s at the height. It would be in the late ‘30s I suppose. And we had one man there who served as the rabbi, the shochet [kosher butcher], the teacher, the cantor all rolled into one. Rabbi…Reverend Oland was his name and he stayed there until the community really dwindled and dwindled in the early ‘40s and then ultimately went to Saskatoon. He did teach me some elements of Hebrew and I suppose he also must have taught me something relative to my Bar Mitzvah although I don’t remember having a Bar Mitzvah with a lot of simcha [celebrations] in Kamsack. It was during the war years and I presume that those type of activities took a back seat.
Kent: What did you do at recess?
Karby: Whatever, we used to play tag, a lot of hopscotch, a lot of hanging
Kent: You mean just talking with your friends?
Karby: Yeah, just hanging out. There was always a teacher on duty, always someone in the playground. There are things I don't want to tell you. We were mean sometimes, you know how kids can be. But mostly, I'd say mostly the girls played jump rope, a lot of doubles jump rope with the big skipping rope..
Kent: When you say ‘doubles’ do you mean two ropes or just one rope, two people jumping?
Karby: One rope sometimes two people jumping, sometimes two ropes but one of these long [ropes], you know, that it takes two people to hold. And we did a lot of hopscotch although there was only one small section where you could draw the squares because I'm sure the rest of the thing was gravel.
Kent: You mean you drew your own squares?
Karby: Yeah, sure, of course with chalk, absolutely. And we made our own little beaded throws. I can't tell you how many hours of our childhood were spent making hopscotch throws, you know, beaded, and I don’t even remember now what they were out of, but all kinds of varieties. We did a lot of roller skating and sometimes we'd bring our roller skates and skate in the yard but that was rare because it meant schlepping them to school.
Kent: Yeah, you said the yard was gravel.
Karby: It must have not all been gravel because if we drew the hopscotch it couldn't have been gravel so maybe I’m not…maybe it was just concrete, some kind of cement of some sort. I really don’t remember now. Maybe it’s part and part. I don’t know somebody else might remember that…Once in a while…No, that was about it. We were never allowed off the school grounds. Once in a while we'd go to the park, not Douglas Park but the little Braemar Park, if the weather was nice sometimes.
Kent: You went with the teachers?
Karby: Yeah, with the teacher, we’d have our lunch in the park.
CL: What do you remember about the early days on the farm?
AS: I remember visiting, having people come to the house, you know neighbours they’d walk. Saturdays, the fun we’d have was just going to visit neighbours. I remember I didn’t get to start school until about eight years old. And I had to walk three miles. Used to milk a cow before I went to school. And walked three miles with my brother Ben and Fannie and before I got there I was pretty well worn out, they had to hang on to my arms to help me along to get there.
CL: Did you…What happened in the winter with the snow and everything?
AS: They didn’t have school in the winter. They didn’t have school. I know when the boys went to school, they had to herd cattle. And one day one would go to school and the next day another one would go to school. There were no [fences] then.
CL: What do you remember of the school? What did the school look like?
AS: Well, I know we were the only Jewish children, I think. Going to school the gentile child used to be curious about us. They liked to look in our lunch boxes. Like Pesach we would have maybe different food and they used to sort of, you know, kind of make a little fun of us.
KK: When I was 20 I had to go to the army, that was the regulations for the tsar’s time. And it was in that year, in 1914, that was a matter of…like talking that a war would break out pretty soon. So I decided either to go to the army or better go either to United States or Canada. And I left my wife and child and I went to Canada because my mother had a brother in Montreal. To make this story short I would like to say that coming to Montreal I…went to, to my uncle. It was the first day of Pesach. I arrived in Montreal from Halifax. My uncle took me to the shul at Yontif. And introduced me to the Rabbi Garber. He was the chief rabbi in Montreal and I was very much acquainted…At that time my voice was so good I [inaudible], from time to time. And delighted me the way I doven [Yiddish for pray] for Yontif. So one time the Rabbi Garber, Simcha Garber he asked me what I was going to do. Well, I said I didn’t decided yet but, you know, I had something to do. He suggested to me, “You are a yeshiva bocher [Yiddish for young student], scholarly person, and you could sing. I would advise you…How’s about to have some Hebrew lessons, to give Hebrew lessons…”
MF: So he didn’t suggest that you become a cantor? When you said you were a dovening that means in English you were a cantor.
KK: No, not really that. Not a cantor but really a teacher.
MF: A teacher.
KK: A teacher. To take Hebrew and to teach Hebrew. After Pesach he says, “First I’ll give you my two eyniklekh…
KK: Grandchildren. And to give them lessons. And his grandchildren was one of the really famous people in Montreal at that time, Rosenberg, Greenberg, and some others. They had a big family. Even at present time, his son, Garber, was the president of the Congress, of the Jewish Congress, Rosenberg is. And I was, I succeeded in having so many lessons that was really impossible for me to handle them all. I went over to the board of education at the Talmud Torah to inquire if I could change instead of to give lessons to go around to one place to another during the winter time it was very hard and cold, so they asked me to come over to the Talmud Torah, and I was then a teacher of the Talmud Torah in Montreal. Two years later I became principal of the Talmud Torah in Montreal.
Interviewer: Jean Gerber & Cyril E. Leonoff
JW: So it was after my second year of university here that I decided to go into medicine which made my mother and father very happy.
CL: Did this school have a pre-med at that time?
JW: No, no. No, couldn’t take any…I stayed here ‘til the end of my second year then I tried to get some pre-med and they had nothing here. They…In those days you had to have the equivalent of high school Latin to get into medical school. And I hadn’t taken Latin, I had taken French in high school. Only two schools in Canada that had a preliminary course in Latin which was the equivalent of high school Latin; one was University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and the other was Halifax, Dalhousie. So Saskatoon, I’d come from there so I went back to Saskatoon and took my pre-med there. And then I got into the University of Toronto Medical School.
JG: Now these were days towards the end of the Depression beginning of World War II when Jews did not enter medical school so easily.
JW: No, very difficult.
JG: How did you overcome this quota system?
JW: I just got very good marks. Didn’t get such high marks at the University of British Columbia. I was too busy fooling around, having a good time. But once I decided to go into medical school, my final year in my pre-med year I really got very good marks.
JG: Were there other Jewish—I guess at that time it would have been mostly boys, some girls maybe—trying to get in?
JW: Out of 120 in our class there were five girls. That’s all.
JG: So they would have had to be very good.
JW: They were very good and they were nice girls.
JG: Any other Jews went into medical school with you?
JW: Yes, yes, there were a few, not many. The University of Toronto strangely enough, although the city was an anti-Semitic city, and there many of the doctors were personally anti-Semitic and showed it, the policy of the school wasn’t that bad. I had difficulty finding a place to stay because many houses had ‘restricted’ signs on them. And restricted didn’t mean blacks because there were no blacks, restricted meant there were no Jews allowed. So I had difficulty finding a place to live.
JG: Where did you finally settle?
JW: Well, when I went to Toronto I stayed at the YMCA which is right near the University of Toronto in Toronto. And I stayed there, it was a dollar a day I remember. And I wandered around looking for a place. The university had lists of places that you could go to board and room. I wandered around to a lot of these places and a lot of them had restricted signs on them. And I was getting very discouraged.
I was in swimming one day, you know, at the Y, you go swimming with no clothes on, the YMCA in those days. So I see another guy swimming, he looked Jewish to me.
JW: So I got talking to him and I was telling him my problems and he turned out to be a medical student also and living in Toronto. And he says, “Well,” he said, “look, I’ve got a place for you to live.” He says, “There’s a Jewish medical fraternity.” He says, “Come and live at our place.” So I lived there for five years, cost $35 a month.
JG: What was the name of the fraternity?
JW: Phi Delta Epsilon and that is an international, Jewish—only Jewish students…
Interviewer: Naomi Katz & Cyril E. Leonoff
CL: Well on the Prairies—Winnipeg, populated by Russian Jews primarily and Eastern European Jews, Yiddish was the language spoken. I have the impression that in Vancouver Hebrew was emphasized. Did you speak Yiddish with your parents?
NB: No, no, no. Until we the children introduced English into the home, we knew no language except Jewish. And one of the things that you and your generation might find a little difficult unless you’ve thought about it seriously is the problems that youngsters who don’t have English have when they go to school. I recall going to school and the second day that I was there they called a roll and as they called the roll each of the children had to say ‘present.’ Well, when they called my name and I wouldn’t say ‘present.’ When the teacher asked me why I wouldn’t tell her and she punished me, and she asked me to stay after school and I told her that the only reason that I wouldn’t say ‘present’ was that I wasn’t going to give her a present because that was the only connotation that I knew present in. [Laughter]. That’s why I think that some of these intelligence tests are so ridiculous. Because connotations is all important.
CL: So you spoke Yiddish in the home and when you started to go to school you learned English.
NB: Then my parents learned as well. And ultimately…
BB: That is always the history. The children learned, came home, wouldn’t speak the Yiddish and so the parents had to learn English.
Interviewer: Irene Dodek & Ron Stuart
ID: You said that your mother encouraged you to go into law. Did you ever at any time consider another field? Did you ever consider medicine?
NN: No, no.
ID: Never. And how did law school change you?
NN: Well, I think the discipline of law was a thing...
ID: The work load?
NN: The work was heavy. In those days, this was after you had a degree but before we had a full fledged law school, we had something, people wanted to go back to a system...You would go to law office...
ID: Before you went to law school?
NN: No, after you went to law school. You would go into a law office.
ID: As an articling student?
NN: As an articling student, and you’d spend three years if not four years there. Then you would proceed to go to lectures, and lectures at four o’clock. They’d get real money out of you by working you. And you got a real princely sum of $15. I eventually got $35 a month.
ID: What did you do as an articling student?
NN: Well, as an articling student you did everything that you knew exactly things that many young lawyers don’t know. You’d know how to draw wills, you’d know how to draw all of the practical things.
ID: You mean young lawyers don’t learn this?
NN: Well no, because they’re in a different milieu. They learn all about jurisprudence, you know, and all the fancy problems that arise in famous cases but as for doing the actual work there was a change. But that disappeared, that’s disappeared.
ID: So the work load really...Did any of your professors influence you in a particular way?
NN: Yes, well they did, because we had a very fine group of professors at the school and the Vancouver Law School and they did, they’re very, very good.
Inteviewer: Irene Dodek & Ron Stuart
ID: Do you remember your first grade in Watrous?
NN: Oh, I went to Grade 1 to 4 in Watrous.
ID: Tell me about those years. What do you remember about them?
NN: It’s interesting you should question me about that, because I just saw a picture I was showing my daughter-in-law the other day of me at school. My teacher—who has the same name as my successor in the courts, [McEacran], I must tell him. I’ve forgotten to tell him the other day—she was my first school teacher and she took a liking to me. And boy, oh boy. The schools then were different than now.
ID: In what way?
NN: Well, because you had three classes in one room. You would shift your chair sideways to get out of the way when she did the next class. [Laughter]. I said to somebody who asked me once they were telling how difficult it is to teach a single class nowadays in a school when I was on some commission. I said, “You don’t know what it’s like when I took schooling.”
ID: So you really had to block out,
NN: You had to block out.
ID: Or else listen.
NN: Or listen.
ID: Or you’d be in the next grade already.
NN: That’s right, that’s right. One way of getting promoted [laughing].
ID: How many children in the classroom?
NN: I would think in those classrooms about 30 kids. So you’d have a mixture of about ten in each class.
RY: So I was very lucky and both my parents were crackerjack communicators, so we moved out to a village called Ituna in Saskatchewan, population four hundred, and one of the conditions of my parents’ employment was that my mother would run a school…
BB: In English?
RY: No, no, not in English, teaching the kids Jewish and Hebrew so every day after school from four to six she ran a school, there were eight Jewish children in the village and they all attended school and of course the pride of all these parents was for the rest of their lives was the kids would write home in Yiddish. Her least successful student was yours truly, there was no time for me because come six o’clock she had to make dinner for my father, but I picked up everybody’s lessons along the way but my way of rebelling was “So I don’t read Yiddish,” that was my way of rebelling. But I found it very interesting when I was out in Ituna, the Anglican minister came to my mother one day and he said to her, “I understand you are teaching Jewish and Hebrew.”He says, “I would like to read the bible in the original Hebrew, I’ll make a deal with you…you teach me Hebrew, I’ll help you with your English.” So every Saturday noon they had an appointment where they would get together and exchange language skills. So I had a very interesting childhood and luckily picked up good communication skills, my mother was also a poet, used to write poetry and it was published in the Jewish paper in Winnipeg and I think she once submitted something to [The Torgen], New York.