CP: The first place where we lived that I can recall was called Pine Court. It was on 10th Avenue between Fir and Pine. And there’s a beautiful high rise on that spot right now [laughs]. After that we moved to 7th Avenue in the 1500 block, that’s the block west of Granville. And we lived there for quite a while. I remember we lived there when my brother was born in 1929. It was a, if you want a description, I would say it was a lower middle class area. My father had a manufacturing business and in the house we lived in there, there was a huge room on the main floor and attached to the house and he had his manufacturing business in that room. Then we moved, why I don’t know. We moved up to 22nd Avenue, one block east of Oak. And I remember when we lived in that area, because we lived [laughs]…We lived in three houses there: 22nd Avenue one block east of Oak, 21st Avenue one block east of Oak, and 20th Avenue just into the second block east of Oak. And I remember in those days, well you know what Oak Street is like today, but in those days there was a single track streetcar line and I can remember at about 23rd or 24th the track doubled. And the streetcar coming up, going south or coming north would have to wait there until the streetcar going in the opposite direction came and they passed a baton and then they could go on the single track. Now, if that’s a bit of history of Vancouver, so maybe…
SA: Well that is. Well, that’s interesting. The next question I was going to ask you was: What are some of your earliest memories as a child?
CP: Oh, well, that’s one of them.
SA: If you have another one, maybe we’ll just do one or two.
CP: Well, I can remember swinging on the gate on 7th Avenue on August the 5th, 1929, while my brother was being born in the house at home. And I didn’t even know my mother was pregnant [laughs].
SA: Times have changed.
CP: Have they ever! I do have other memories. I remember when I was going to Edith Cavell School my father very often would come up at lunch time, drive up from wherever his factory was then—because we weren’t living on 7th then, I think his factory was on Broadway then—he would come up and he’d bring me wurst sandwiches. And we’d sit in his car and eat them. I mean, I don’t have too many memories that would be interesting.
SA: Well, those are quite colourful ones. Yes, definitely. So were there other relatives living around you?
CP: No, no, when my grandmother came to Vancouver she lived in the West End and my uncle, Dave Genser lived with her. And my other uncle, Gordon Genser lived over on Dunbar Street and 11th. And then when Dave got married he and his wife lived over, they didn’t live right around us but…
SA: They were here.
CP: They were here, yeah.
SA: You did have family here.
CP: And my mother’s uncle Bill Genser and his family lived on the West Side too. I don’t know when they came here, whether, they must have been here about the same time we were.
CS: I was just gonna go back for a second to your grandfather.
ML: My great-grandfather or the grandfather? Jake was the great-grandfather.
CS: Okay, Jake. Okay, when he came here do you know if he lived in the Jewish community which was down in Strathcona in the early days?
ML: You see my feeling is, and I haven’t really done a history and people would know, the Jewish community in Strathcona was a later visitation and I think that Jake’s group and Jake’s family they were moving up. They were, I mean I would think that Cyril [Leonoff] would call them, they were part of the West End Jews, they were on the West End of Vancouver and they had a different location for services and they moved through the community in a different way. And probably just because every different generation coming here, economically, etcetera, moves in a different direction through the community. Because the Strathcona group, which, it’s funny—I lived in Strathcona when I came here in ‘76, which happened to be that part of the history where the Jewish community came from—but my mother’s side, they were well established in the community by the ‘teens and earlier and didn’t go through Strathcona at all. In fact when my Mum left here in the ‘40s she was living on Nanton in Shaughnessy area, so I think their jump was downtown, you know, when Jake was here probably, for the Cordova, Carroll Street, right in the centre near Gastown where they’d live near where their store was at that point, to the West End. The West End was the huge step up for people and that’s where Jake and those guys lived, and my mom grew up just off Denman on Comox so her world was the West End of Vancouver and then when they moved even wealthier I guess they moved up to Shaughnessy area and had a house there.
Interviewer: Irene Dodek & Cyril E. Leonoff
ID: At the time that you were going to Hebrew school where did most of the Jewish people live? Did they live around the Heatley Street synagogue or were they already living the West End?
MS: No, very few Jews lived in the West End and I’ll tell you about them in a moment. The concentration of Jews—I suppose there were 200, or 250, or maybe even 300 families—were in the East End. That’s in the Georgia, Pender, Keefer, Heatley, Campbell Avenue.
ID: Where Chinatown now is, is it Chinatown or Gastown?
MS: Yes, but east of Chinatown extending to what we know as Commercial Drive area.
ID: Yes, Strathcona School that’s where…
MS: That’s right, Strathcona School which was the centre of the intercultural, multicultural, the melting pot. There was also another very large, a substantial school called the Central School which is the site now of the trade school on Pender Street between Homer and Richards.
ID: The vocational school?
MS: That’s right. That was Central School and that was a, with a mixture, a very large Chinese school population, a few East Indian, a few Japanese, a few Jews. But in the West End there resided very few Jewish families. And I must mention that as a kid I got to know the Freeman family and later I married their cousin, Mildred [Rosa] Freeman. The Zlotnicks, Sid and Hal lived in the West End. Mitchell Snider whom I mentioned earlier. The [Koshevoys] who I mentioned earlier. Other than that I don’t remember people living in the West End.
ID: This was in 19—what?
MS: From the period of 1925 to the period of 1937. [Inaudible].
ID: Mort’s [Morton Dodek, Irene’s husband] father came in ’34 and through the West End. They lived in the West End. And there was Silverberg, did you know that name at all
MS: Sure. George, Silberberg. Not Silver, Silber.
ID: I thought it was Silverberg but I may be wrong. George anyhow, it’s George.
MS: Yeah, George became a furrier and a neighbour of mine in business. His business was located close to mine. There were the Lessers were there. Family by the name of Blooms. Holts lived for short while. Leon Holt, who’s father had a fur store on Granville Street, lived for a short while. And there were a number of business people who had businesses on Granville Street but didn’t live in the West End to the best of my knowledge.
ID: Where did the Jewish people mostly live?
MS: They moved from the Georgia Street area which was the immigrant area to the Mount View Pleasant…Mount Pleasant area. Main and Hastings. That was a sort of a stepping stone…
ID: Just a minute, Main and Hastings is not Mount Pleasant.
MS: Excuse me.
ID: Main and…
MS: Broadway. I’m sorry. That area there, there were a lot of Jewish families including Chaim Leib Freedman who was possibly one of the stalwarts of the community. And his son is, he had a number of children, but the best known of them is Myer Freedman who was the originator if you will and the first president of the Jewish Historical Society lived in that area. And at that time, prior to, or just about at the same time as the Jewish Community Centre was being built, the first Jewish Community Centre…
ID: On 11th Avenue.
MS: On 11th and Oak Street. The building was, the cornerstone was laid in 1925 and the building was completed in 1928. And if I recall my history Shmarya Levin laid the cornerstone, I believe. And there are pictures of pioneer families, J.P. Jaffe, Rothstein, etcetera. You know even more or as much as I do about that time. And that was the impetus, Jews then began to live from 4th Avenue right up to 25th Avenue in the corridor, bordering the corridor of, Oak Street corridor.
NR: Where were you living, what place was it?
DG: We were living in Kerrisdale, when I, just before I was born family moved there. I believe they were down on 13th Avenue, around 13th and Oak, I never, I don’t the address, I don’t know where the house was but before I was born we moved up into Kerrisdale on Marguerite Street, 45th and Marguerite. There were a handful of Jewish families in the area at that time. And when I say a handful, really just a handful. There was the, let’s see, who were our neighbours…There was the Diamond family but, his name will come to me, he died such a long time ago. His wife was Bessie Diamond. And they had, their company was National Spice. He packaged spices. And gave jobs to all the kids out of school and to a lot of the, you know, newcomers to town. They had two kids, Marsha lives in Toronto now, I can’t remember her married name but she’s an actress and Allan lives in Los Angeles. That was one family. There was the Brotman family, their daughter Tobi, Tobi Lenett still active in the Jewish community here. There was the [Marlov] family, their daughter, I can’t remember…See a lot of these I can’t remember a lot of the names. But there’s also, there’s Charlie Korsch, who in the early days, he was a manufacturer. I believe he made hats and then he went into real estate, his two sons Len and Stan are still in Vancouver, very prominent in the Jewish community.
So this was, and there was the Beck family, Ralph Beck. I think he was in the automotive industry, died young. Their three kids no longer live here so there’s no vestige of that family here, yet one of the sons Stan Beck, I believe he, and I think Howard too, they went into law and they became professors, prominent professors at Eastern universities. There was Sam Albert, Sam and Ida Albert. I believe he was in wholesale jewellery and their family isn’t here anymore. So there were, there was a big group that, and these were the ones that started the Congregation Beth Israel.
NR: So these were all the...Okay, this was Congregation Beth Israel, these weren’t people living up around Kerrisdale?
DG: This was the Ker…Yeah.
NR: These were the Kerrisdale…
DG: These were the, yeah, these were the Jewish families that lived in the Kerrisdale area. There was the Chess family, there were I think two brothers. And I believe the [Zion] family. So there were quite a few…and the Browns. There were quite a few. In our growing up.
NR: And you went to which school?
DG: I went to Magee. Went to Maple Grove for my elementary. Then at that time Point Grey was a junior high so went there for seven, eight, and nine. And then went to Magee for, to complete high school.
NR: And was it difficult being such a small number of Jews, was there ever any issue?
DG: I never found it difficult. I never found it difficult at all.
MT: I grew up on St. George Street which is east of Main just off Kingsway and Broadway. And that was, at that time the Jewish neighbourhood. And we went to Florence Nightingale [School]. My mother, and there were friends of mine who did get, guys got beaten up for being a Jew.
LR: Oh my God.
MT: That never happened to me because across the street was a gang sort, of a group of brothers, I think there were three or four brothers. And the mother and my mother were good friends. So the word came down from the mother that I wasn’t to be touched. And I had this protection which I didn’t know until years later. So, the quote gangs that were there—certainly not like the gangs now, there was no knives.
LR: [Much more hoodlums].
MT: That’s right. It was more physical than it was dangerous. Didn’t touch me, I had the protection of this gang simply because our mothers said don’t do it and they listened. And…
LR: Which is scary in itself that she had to tell them who to hit and who not to hit.
MT: Well, I don’t know, as I said, I was protected, yet my girlfriend who lived four or five blocks away from me wasn’t. She, she was beaten up a couple of times and she was name-called and all the rest. Never happened to me. I didn’t have it.
LR: Wow. What about in school, I mean was it a very clear, distinct like…what I’m getting at is, was growing up as a Jewish kid very different than growing up as a gentile kid and I know the answer is yes obviously but what I mean is in the actual school environment.
MT: No, not really.
LR: Did you sense that, you know, in the classroom or anything like that…
MT: No, nah uh, I didn’t. I don’t know if others did but I didn’t. Any of this happened after school, weekends, because in that area from Broadway ‘til about 25th, from Main east was Jewish. Well, Jewish type. And so it was a real conglomeration of people at the time. So if you were going to have any kind of anti-Semitism it would be after school and weekends when you were at a store, or roaming around with a friend, or walking, or whatever. When you were on your own rather than the comfort of the school, the protection of the school itself.
LR: And the reason they’d know probably is just because the community was so small that they knew they could point every finger they had at who was a Jew.
MT: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. No question.
LR: And what were the teachers, what was it like being a Jewish kid in a public school, they were totally…
MT: They were fine. Didn’t bother me at all. You know if were a smart kid you got treated differently, if you weren’t you clogged along. No, I don’t remember any kind of problems at all.
LR: And what about, like I’m sure there were, whatever denomination, Jew, non-Jew, whatever you are, I’m sure there were probably parts of the city that were like, you know, the hot spots for teenagers to go and hang out. Probably like the movies or coffee shops or…
MT: 16th and Oak.
LR: 16th and Oak.
MT: There used to be a restaurant called Pal’s and that was the hang out for all King Ed. All King Ed, didn’t matter, if you wanted to be seen, if you wanted to meet somebody it was there.
LR: Yeah, so like the diner.
MT: The diner, that’s right. And there were a couple places on Kingsway that had hamburger joints that also had it. Then of course there were drive-ins too, in those days.
LR: Yeah, and going into these cafes and into these diner and then probably the drive in movies was it again, was it a very separate like social environment, from the Jewish kids and the secular kids?
MT: No, no, no, it wasn’t big enough. You know, the city isn’t big enough to have any kind of exclusion. Whereas in Montreal there the Jewish area.
BS: In Vancouver…
FS: In Vancouver, yes in Vancouver we, I grew...My parents moved, they rented a house at the corner of Georgia and Hawkes Street. The house and all the other houses that were in that area were, that was kind of the centre of the Jewish, at least Georgia Street was...although mixed neighbourhood. So those houses are no longer there in fact there, there is a park, but I do recall quite clearly a lot of the neighbourhood and the different ethnic backgrounds of many of the neighbours.
BS: What were some of the ethnic groups?
FS: Well, most, well it was, there were many, there were a lot of Ukrainians, in fact there was the Ukrainian, cultural centre, not a church. This was, these were the Ukrainians who were non, who were non-religious or anti-religious, in fact, but very, strong Ukrainian nationalists and they preserved their, the culture, which was very close by. So there were a lot of Ukrainians, there certainly were a lot of Chinese. In fact the majority, I think the majority of the people that we went, that I went to school with were Chinese. And there was also, a large Jewish community there because the, well you know, the first Schara Tzedeck was two blocks away from our house and that was, that was served as not just the synagogue, but of course, the community centre and since most of the community activities centered around religious activities so the Jewish holidays were a very large part and of the community activity.
BS: Did the different communities intermingle in any way?
FS: Yes quite, well certainly at school. Most of our classmates were Chinese and of course there was, and there was great competition between the Chinese and the, and the, and the Jewish kids...for marks. At that point there was great, there was competition and people were graded in their position in the class and so it was quite the challenge in order to achieve something within the first five or six ranks. So, I managed to get a couple of times to get within, got close to first but never quite made it.
RK: For the three of us being from Europe we thought that downtown Vancouver is the place to live because we didn’t know about things like suburbs. In Holland we lived in a four hundred year-old house in the middle of the city. So my parents looked in downtown and they realized that living there with a child wouldn’t put us near the Jewish community or any such thing so they looked around. We had a Mr. Caswell, a realtor, drove us all around Vancouver, a kind man who showed us everything including the British Properties where he told us that Jews and Chinese could not buy homes. It was not an anti-Semitic comment; it was a comment of fact. We ended up getting a house from other Jews who became friends of my parents and that was Izzy and Bella [Bogdor] who owned a house at 2515 West 13th Avenue. They were going to move to the Cambie area which was kind of slightly modestly more up-scale move that Jews were beginning to make from various areas of the city, clustering towards Oak Street and Cambie Street. So we moved in at 13th and Lodge, which meant that I would go to General Gordon elementary school and Kitsilano Junior and Senior Secondary. And so that’s where I went, my best friends became the boys who lived across the street from me…Constantine Alexander Micas, Greeks, and Connie and I became friends for life and he is now a surgeon in Fresno but all our lives we went through university together…high school together, university, medical school and we stayed in touch always and so I had a best friend and there’s nothing like a best friend helping you to become normal again.
RY: My mother had been orphaned in her early life. And she was the eldest of five children and the burden of her family fell upon her. And her lot in life was very difficult. A little later her father married so she knew a stepmother too. But one of the things that she brought was a tremendous love for her children. And this love we felt very, very much. And we lived in what would be humble circumstances on Keefer Street. And [Almat] Ice Cream Factory wanted to buy the house but one of the members of the family told her not to sell it because she would get more money. And now the house was on a precipice and a lot of blasting had to be done for levelling. One day this blasting took place and I came running in and I said, “Mama, Ich layb nach! Ich layb nach!” She grasped me in her arms and…
AK: You better translate that for [people].
RY: She said she would sell the house immediately because “Ich layb nach” means, “I am still alive! I am still alive!” She went to sell her house and took a great loss and then they moved to 5th Avenue where we had a very nice life.
MF: I was brought up in a strongly ethnic community. Our first home when we arrived was on Georgia Street near Campbell Avenue. And lived there a short while. One of my, my oldest sister Rose was born there. Our second home was in the 700 block Union Street. Our neighbours in the first home, we had a very fine negro family. In fact, if you’ve heard of an artist Collins, what’s her name, Collins the singer. I’ve forgot her first name. She was, her parents lived right next door to us and they were lovely people. And our neighbours there were at that time mostly Italians and Russians. And this family of coloured people, very fine folks. On Union Street our neighbours on both sides were Russian Orthodox persuasion. And some of the early Jewish pioneers lived on Georgia on the 7, 6, and 500 block, on Keefer Street in the same 7, 6, and 500 blocks. And the Schara Tzedeck synagogue had not been built yet at that particular time. We used to hold services up to my earliest recollections in the 600 block Union Street in an old store. And two doors away lived the [McCarnon] family, [Jerry McCarnon] the boxer. At school [Jimmy Samuels] was in my class, his father lived in the area. It was just a rented store at the time that I recollect. [We had a movement with aim to] buy a building of our own which we first had one that still exists on Heatley Avenue and between Pender and what’s the next street, I forget, you must know the street…
DM: Pender and Keefer.
MF: Pender. Keefer, right! Between Pender and Keefer and that served as the synagogue for quite a while.
AK: What was Vancouver like when you first came?
JY: Vancouver was a…
AK: The Jewish community.
JY: Yeah, it was a very nice community. People were closer one to another. Most of the people were concentrated in the east side of the, it was on the Georgia, Pender, Keefer. And people, seems to me, were more together. Today if you want to see somebody you have to make an appointment or they have to invite you before or make appointment ahead of time. There, if you felt like seeing somebody you just walked in the house and your friends, you go to Georgia Street on a summer evening everybody was sitting outside on the veranda and chatting, talking. And they were all together.
AK: Was it a mixed, other people than Jewish people lived there? There wasn’t any…Were there Chinese people at that time or not?
JY: Yes, it was, sure there were mixed people but the Jewish people seemed to concentrate in one area. Afterwards, later on, you know they started to move away from that neighbourhood. And coming to the [Fairmount] district.
AK: Mount Pleasant district.