SF: And he, your grandparents were also from London?
AV: Well my great grandmother was from Wales but they moved to London, so then she was put into service to a Dutch Sephardic family and lived in Amsterdam. She was put into service when she was twelve years old and the cook taught her to read and write. It was a thoroughly Orthodox Jewish home, a Sephardic home and so she had the same pronunciation that we have in our congregation which is Sephardic, and so when I found Jews and they had the Ashkenazi pronunciation it was like different languages and I didn’t understand it. But she had taught me some Ladino that I had learned too but that wasn’t until shortly before she died and we came to Canada the year after when I was 18.
SF: And that was in what year?
SF: And you went to?
AV: Halifax, the infamous Pier 21 [laughs], and I’d love to go back and see how they’ve made it into a museum. So we came across by train and even though we’d paid for first class tickets we were put onto a special immigrant train, and we didn’t know we had any choice, we could have stayed overnight and got into Calgary a day earlier than we did because the porters, the staff, all these nice young black fellows that you know, we weren’t used to speaking with—there had been some black people in Wembley where I grew up but they weren’t close, you know, they weren’t part of our life—and they were saying that they had never seen a train so old and weren’t they lucky, “ha ha,” to be given that job! [Laughs]. So they were only on for a day and then they deadheaded back or they got a train back and so they didn’t do the whole trip and we kept getting new people as porters and people.
SF: And you made your way to Calgary?
SF: Why Calgary?
AV: Well we had to be sponsored and my father had come from a family where his father’s generation had spread out across the Commonwealth. Well, the thing is that my mother and I thought we were going to go to New Zealand so we spent two and a half years studying New Zealand, we went to illustrated lectures, we had library books and whatever we could find out about New Zealand we were studying. And then immigration was cut off to families because there was a housing crunch and they said only single men can come and my father refused to go on his own because he had left us during the war with no choice and he didn’t like the way my mother was independent when he wasn’t around so he wasn’t let that happen again so my mother said, “Find us another country.” And he went around Trafalgar Square to all the colonial houses and Canada was the best option, but we had contacts—Southern Rhodesia, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, so he wrote to all of these uncles and aunts that he found out where they were and my aunt, his aunt Frances in Calgary...
SF: Adele would you like to say your Hebrew name.
AV: Oh sure, well my original Hebrew name was Hannah and then when I went through the pro-forma with Rabbi Victor Reinstein to become Jewish I adopted my great-grandmother’s Hebrew name as well because I wanted to be like her, she was indomitable, and her name was Miriam so I am now Miriam Hannah bat Gittel. And finding the name Gittel was quite a surprise because my mother, because of Kristallnacht and her foster mother from Berlin, they were crying by the radio listening to what was going on in Germany and that’s when my mother said, “Don’t let anyone know we’re Jewish.” And so out of the whole family, being the oldest of the six children, I’m the only one that has got back to the roots to be Jewish, the others are not and they’ve forgotten if they ever really knew. So I’m a latecomer to practicing Judaism but I’ve always known that I was Jewish and I can remember when I was about seven or eight years old telling my next-door neighbour who was two years older than me that I was Jewish but not Orthodox, and she said, “What does Orthodox mean?” and I said, “I have no idea!” [Laughing].
MW: So that was my first experience with Hadassah. Then I guess not very many years later, because it was 1947 so I was 22 years old so it was just a couple of years later that I came to Vancouver to see my brother but I decided to stay because I loved Vancouver.
AZ: So you came to Trail and then went to Rossland later.
CW: Rossland, well after, I took my business course and I was to go to Vancouver. I was the only Jewish girl my age in Trail and my parents were a little bit concerned, you know, here I am eighteen years old and I’m dating non-Jewish boys [laughs] so I was to go to Vancouver to stay with relatives because I had taken my business course and just before that Chuck came, my husband, came to Trail. I worked in a confectionery store after school and on Saturdays and he came to give regards from Saskatchewan to my boss, and I met him there and but, we would date, because it was a small community we would often be invited to the same parties and everything. So I still was booked to go to Vancouver and stay with family but he wrote me letters every single day, I got thirty some odd letters for the month and my aunt said, “You know we live here but you’re the only one that gets the mail.” And I was to go to be a dental assistant but my auntie said, “You know if somebody cares enough to write you every day, you’ve got to go back and make sure that this is the life you really want.” So I went back and I stayed there, we became engaged and married in Trail, that was the first Jewish wedding there, and then my husband came as a graduate to work at Cominco. There were a few other boys who came at the same time, and he was employed as a research chemist until he graduated.
Once you apply yourself to something he found out that that was the way he really didn’t want to go so he went into business with my dad and it was a family business, we all worked together in Rossland and we moved into a hardware store, left the grocery business and went into the hardware business. And they, my dad and my husband worked together for another fifteen years in Rossland and my parents wanted to retire, and so Chuck had his education but everybody said he should be a teacher because he’s just a born teacher. So he went back for one year to take his teacher’s training and he came back and he taught in Castlegar and then he signed up for Victoria and Vancouver, and Victoria came first. He had been coming here to mark papers and the kids had been coming here, oh I had three children, two girls and a boy, and they were in school bands and everything so they knew what Victoria was like and they said, “Oh Mom you’ll love it there, you’ve got to go and see it.” So we moved here, we came in ’67 so we’ve been here forty two or three years now, and he passed away two years ago.
AS: Yes. Now I’d like to go back to how I got involved or got some experience with the farming community, this farming colony of Rumsey. There were two colonies, actually, fairly close to each other in Alberta. One was called Rumsey the other Trochu which was the name of their closest village. Although they were close together they were separated by the Red Deer River and there was no way of fording, there was no way of getting across the river except at low water they could ford it, actually ride across it or wade across it if the water was really low. Eventually there was a bit of a cable ferry established which ran sporadic service across the river, I remember that but then you couldn’t rely on that either. In any case, what happened with, in my experience, with, was that because early on there were no Jewish day camps available for Jewish children, at least none that were suitable to my parents. I was sent out to the farm for my summer camp, so to speak, to my aunts and uncles in Rumsey, as if my poor aunts who were so hardworking, as if they didn’t have enough to do out there in these small homes that they ran. This is the home that I remember [showing photograph]. It was a two bedroom home with a kitchen on the side where I spent many summers adding to their burden. [Laughing]. In any case, this was my other aunt.
AS: So this where I first got contact with, and an appreciation of the farm life, the Jewish farm life in Alberta is in Rumsey with my two aunts and uncles and I used to go out there at least two or three weeks every summer along with a few other cousins too who used to get shipped out there so we used to have fun. I used to try to help out when possible but I think I was more trouble than help most of the time. In any case it gave me a lifelong attraction to the land actually, it’s very beautiful land out there. It’s not flat prairie like Saskatchewan. It’s rolling countryside, very, very beautiful, I think and actually as I say in the end of the article, every two years, at least every two years, I go back to walk the land and I literally do go back to walk the land, I still have relatives, fourth generation, cousins, who are still farming out there and I’m proud to say that this, the farm, the Sengow’s farm which is now operated, run, they are now big farms of course, you can’t survive as a small farmer these days so these farms are now huge, they are nine sections of land with lots of machinery, and they’re quite well-to-do now actually but still subject to the vagaries of the weather. You know they can get wiped out by hail, frost, insects, you name it and they depend on rain at the right time. In any case, I go back to walk the land. My cousins are now, as I say, farming. According to the Jewish Historical Society of Canada they are the last of the descendents in all of Canada still farming the original homestead land of Jewish farmers in all of Canada so I’m proud of that.
AC: And they said that if you want you can go work a physical job. Abe said to me, “If you wanted to go to work with me on the truck…” I went out with him a couple times and I said to myself, “How this man is pulling this heavy drums with copper with things like that, you know.” But he handled this. So I went to, was a guy by the name of Charlie, Charlie…
AC: Davis. Number 2 Road. Number 2 and 2nd Avenue there. So he gave me a job to cut the copper. There’s a big, like a press, you know, and you had to cut because there were long stretches of copper, some cables, some plates, you know. So I was cutting them and filling up drums, you know. And then would come a big truck to lift them up and wherever they were sending, I don’t know it was not my business. And this was my beginning with him. And then again I went to the hospital to get in my profession [Arthur Chinkis had trained and worked as an x-ray technician in Russia]. I was already talking a little bit because there Charlie…were also people, immigrants, they were from all over the world. Polacks, Hungarian, everybody. But everybody tried to speak English that’s the way of communication. With Charlie I spoke Yiddish, you know, it was okay but with the workers you had to speak English. And at night I went on number 12th and Oak there was…
GA: The Jewish…
AC: In the olden days there was a school. That was a school for immigrants, at night, in a trailer…
GA: Was that on King Edward, King Edward campus?
AC: On 12th Avenue and…
AC: Oak Street.
GA: That’s where King Edward…
AC: King Edward is 25th Avenue.
GA: No, no, no, King Edward High School.
AC: Oh, King Edward High School.
GA: Yeah and there was across from King Edward was a Jewish Community Centre.
AC: Yeah, yeah, on 12th Avenue was it, yeah, on Oak Street. So at night I was going there taking courses in English. Made me, writing, reading, conversational, you know. I learned something and I went to this Vancouver General Hospital for an interview. I had my papers, all the papers, you know, everything good papers. The doctor said to me, “Everything is good but you don’t speak too much. You have to communicate with patients. A sick person is coming you have to ask him questions, you have to write it down the story and then do the job, do the x-rays.” I said to the doctor, “I have a suggestion for you and I think you will go for it. Put me for six months in the darkroom. I’ll work in the darkroom.” When you take a picture and go to the darkroom you have to develop it, and then dry it, and then cut the corners, and give it to the doctor to come, and doctors and put on his screen, viewing screen, you know. And he [did]. And that not required too much talking, just work.