ID: What was your father’s business, Esmond?
EL: Father? Well, he started out…I think he worked with Shineman in his general store, then he opened up a…right across from the Prince Rupert Hotel which was a new hotel I think it was on First Avenue, next to the [West Home] Theatre. He had a place that sold tobaccos, groceries, fruit, anything you’d lay your hand on. And it was a great place. The fishermen came in and they didn’t buy…the Norwegian fishermen, they didn’t buy a package of cigarettes. They come in and bought four big two foot rolls of snus [finely ground tobacco taken orally] or they’d take a plug of tobacco but a plug of tobacco had to be a foot long and about an inch thick and five inches wide and they took the whole thing with them. They took these things out with them and chewed on them when they were away for two or three, four, five, or six weeks so it was…they came in and apparently they were very fond of buttermilk and they had buttermilk by the tub being dumped there and apparently the older buttermilk the more higher it got and these boys liked high buttermilk so they it became quite a place. The…punch boys were the thing at that time, they had gold watch fobs and you had to punch…you had a punch business, you sold 10 punches for a dollar and if you got a lucky number you got a gold watch fob. They’d come in and spend 10, 20, 20, 40 dollars trying to get themselves a 10 dollar gold fob. It was the pioneer people with really nothing to do and no entertainment.
ID: This was their entertainment.
EL: Now before my brother’s birth in 1910, it must have been 1908—my father came to Canada. He was looking for a job…
ID: What made him go to Canada?
EL: Yes, my mother’s brother Nate Shineman—and I’ll come to him—had migrated and the Grand Trunk Railraod was being built across Canada and general stores were opened up along the tract that the boys went along—the boys made a living selling to the workers, hundreds and thousands of men with fairly good payroll living in these shacks, going along with the building of the railroad and it is part of the construction of Canada. While this was going on they became merchants and they sold them suitcases and suits and brass watches and all the rest of the stuff. Nate Shineman, who was the elder brother of my mother who died last year at the age of 99 in Jerusalem, came out to Prince Rupert and made his way along the Grand Trunk to Rupert. My father, I guess started the same pattern and on route they went across Canada. The train stopped every so often, you could get out, look around, buy a sandwich or spend three or four hours there while they fix the train up—somewhere outside of Toronto was a sign up that Silverman, a chap by the name of Silverman, Sudbury, where the nickel strike had just been made, international nickel. They needed a man there of artistic ability—they needed a man there who could write signs on windows. And being of artistic ability he took that job and worked for Silverman who was one of the known characters of that time. My father encountered the fact that some fellows came in with, it was a mining area, and some fellow came in with a claim and offered to sell him part of it but he wouldn’t have anything to do with mining—that was gambling and he said that the claims that were offered to him or parts that were offered to him are now the International Nickel Mines of Sudbury. So history has a way of getting hold of you.
He made his way from there to old Hazelton which was on route to the Grand Trunk and he told stories of sleeping in tents there in 30 to 40 below zero and being able to get up in the morning and barely move—taking a match between two frozen hands and rubbing the damn thing to start a fire. Ant that was part of a living at that time—it was tent and shack living with great hardships—but these were all young men.
CL: Is this 1914?
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: And I want to ask you, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that you were the first Jew to be appointed King’s Council?
ID: And the first Jewish person to become Justice of the Supreme Court of BC.
ID: And the first Jewish person to be a member of the Senate and Board of UBC.
ID: And the first Jewish person to be accepted into the Vancouver Club.
ID: How do you account for that? [Laughter].
NN: I don’t know. I guess they started to get lenient [laughing].
ID: Were there no other people of Jewish faith that had the qualifications that you had or?
NN: There were others but once we broke down the barriers they brought other Jewish people in. Joe Segal is a member of the Vancouver Club as well as I am.
ID: I remember reading about it in the papers.
NN: Oh yes, that was quite a change. It’s a funny thing that you should mention that. A great friend of mine [Pearly Brissidon], and a friend of his came to see me, they asked, I was then Chief Justice and they said, “This is unbelievable you aren’t in the club. We want you to come in.” And I said, “Well, I’m not going to run in these chances.” “Well,” they said, “Look, the rules are…” And they gave me the rules. “We will tell you this, that we absolutely guarantee that you will be elected.” So I said, “Now how can you do that?” They said, “Because of the voting structure that we’ve recently established.” Which was a new structure. And I said, “Alright, I’ll do it.” So that was the largest vote turnout we ever had. We had 900 votes, which was in those days quite a heavy [inaudible] and I only had two opposed, so it was pretty good.