JHSBC Oral History Collection
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.
SC: I think I’ve mentioned before that Rabbi Pastinsky brought us to Vancouver because we were only one of two Jewish families living in New Westminster. That was in 1933. Our more of an involvement with the Jewish community started. We used to go to school at Strathcona and take two lunches. One was for the noon hour lunch and the other was after a two hour Hebrew class or Yiddish, I can’t remember which—our second lunch and then we would have two hours of Hebrew or Yiddish.
NK: Can you I ask you who’s ‘we’?
SC: The children, the young people, everyone lived…
NK: Your friends?
SC: No, all of the Jewish, there were only five hundred Jewish in the city, which meant that there were a few only not that many young children. All of the kids went to the Heatley Avenue synagogue. Jewish…
NK: Friends from school?
SC: Mm hmm. I believe Mr. Katznelson was the principal and Ms. Jaffe, Sylvia Jaffe was our teacher. We went for three years and then the Jewish community moved from the Schara Tzedeck which as I said was the only synagogue, the Orthodox, it moved from there to Oak Street.
JG: And what brought them, then, to Vancouver?
SK: Well, then, my dad and mother were married in 1916 in St. Paul. My mother’s family...I, I have no idea when my dad moved to St. Paul, but it wasn’t far ahead of 1916 when they were married. They were married in St. Paul in 1916 and 1918, Dad decided that he wanted to move, well he got the attraction of ‘Go west young man, go west,’ which was quite strong at that time. And he went as far west as he could. He got a one way train ticket to Prince Rupert. And that’s where he was going to set up.
JG: I see. Go on.
SK: And he only stayed there a week. It rained every day and he said this is not for me (laughter). He moved down to Vancouver. Meantime, my mom of course, she didn’t hear from him for the first two months after the move. Didn’t know if he was alive or dead. But, he was busy trying to place himself and he finally, he met on the street here some Jewish people who told him what to do, and he, he himself was a, he had trained with his dad as a, as a hat man. That’s what my grandpa’s business was, making men’s hats, making men’s hats and selling them. And, my dad had learnt that, but he started out in Vancouver as a, well, a, as a furrier.
Now, he didn’t know a thing about fur, but, they, they, I remember him telling me, he said, they, they said, “Can you drop furs?” and my dad says, “Of course I can drop furs.” But he didn’t know what that meant. So, they hired him and he learnt how to drop furs. And he became pretty good at it, at a furrier, being in the fur business. So much so that he, he, yeah, the Canadian, the B.C. Government appointed him an agent for them to go and buy furs from the Indians. So for, he, for several years, that’s what he did. In the meantime, mother came from St. Paul, Minneapolis didn’t exist in those days, it was St. Paul. And, uh, they set up shop here in Vancouver.
And, after the stint with the fur business, my dad went into the business he knew, millenary, hats, making hats. And that’s where he, about, 19, I would say that would have been about 1920. He opened, he started to manufacture hats, and..
JG: What was the name of his company?
SK: His own name, Charles Korsch Limited. And he was, and his trade name was on, on all his hats, was “Made in the West for the Western Made.”
CR: And did you use any of the training that, like, what was the roles of you and Sam, like how did you divide the…?
MK: Sam taught me, so that I was able to do, to be the editor and he was mainly running the business. He taught me to do the layout, he taught me to do everything. He said there, if I’m not here, he said, there’s no reason why you can’t carry on so you have to know everything. And Sam used to do the bookkeeping himself the first few years, he got the first computer. We had a relic of a computer that somebody, it was worth nothing because it was the earliest IBM that they put out. And Sam used to come in on Sundays and do the invoicing. You know I mean, we saved money in all kinds of ways. He brought a computer in and he, you know, he did bookkeeping in computer to save money in the early years.
CR: And so at that point people got you information, obviously not by computer, they had to bring it in or mailed it?
MK: They had to, that’s right.
CR: And you had to re-type everything and make it all…?
MK: That’s right. If they didn’t bring in things that were typed we just retyped them. We eventually put in computers in of course as soon as we could and he gave the whole staff a computer course, we all went down and took a computer course together. Everybody, even Ron had to go down and take computer.
CR: So would that have been in the ‘80s?
ID: You were the one that had the idea first of a bazaar. How did you get that idea?
MG: There was a woman came here from Toronto and she started to tell us, she spoke at one of our Hadassah meetings and she told us about the bazaar in Toronto. And I absolutely fell in love with the idea and I spent a great deal of time with her and she described to me this huge event but it went to the public and it was held at the Pacific Exhibition grounds in Toronto. And she told me what it involved but the key to that bazaar was selling commercial space which we had never done. We had had bazaars before at the old Centre at 11th and Oak but they were not open to the public and they certainly didn’t have commercial space and it was what our members put on.
ID: So who did you sell to?
MG: And so we, you had to sell to firms to…
ID: Just a moment, you, you, put on the bazaar, you sold things to…
MG: Well I’ll tell you how we got there. You’re a little ahead of me.
MG: I wanted to have the Seaforth Armouries because it was the biggest place in town. I wanted to move from the Jewish Community Centre at 11th and Oak to the Seaforth Armouries but we couldn’t rent it, they don’t rent it. But at that time Bernie Isman, who by the way will be 100 this month, he will be 100 this month, was the president of the Veterans Association, there were 33,000 veterans, he was the president and I appealed to him and he was able to get the Armouries on condition we made a donation of $300. So that’s how we got the Armouries. And then, it was 20,000 square feet, that’s a huge place coming from the Jewish Community Centre. Then we decided, we had to have a blueprint, and I didn’t really have a clue of how to arrange the space but Goldie Edwards who was a very good friend of mine worked with, knew Alvin Narod and Alvin Narod was a builder here in town.
BF: And, and when did it suddenly dawn on you, did you have a vision to create and found a Jewish Genealogical Society? What was the process for you?
CE: Whilst I was doing this I was reaching out wherever I thought of that could give me some idea about genealogy, and the only genealogical society that was here in Vancouver was the BC Genealogical Society, which really wasn’t familiar with Jewish history. And I kept saying to myself, from 1986, what we need here is a Jewish Genealogical Society.
BF: Were these being formed around the country at the same time? Were you aware of them?
CE: I wasn’t aware of it. I knew that the Family History Centre had some records and at that time it was very difficult for me to get out to Burnaby to go there, and when I did go they really couldn’t find anything for me. So I continued working, I’d given up working at that time but I was working on the family history and used to come into the Centre an awful lot and somebody in the Historical Society found out what I was doing. By this time it was in 1990s and the girl that was in charge of the Historical Society asked me to come and talk to her and to tell her what I was doing. So I told her the story of what I wanted to do, so she said, “Well, why don’t you start?” I said, “We need a Jewish Genealogical Society here,” so she said, “Why don’t you start one?” So that time the first book was completed and I felt that I had the time to promote…
BF: And the experience, I would say.
CE: Yes, so I looked up various places where we could rent some space for a meeting and Temple Sholom was the most reasonable. So I put an ad in the Bulletin to say that there was going to be a meeting of Jewish genealogy at such and such a time and whoever turned up, we were going to have speakers there, and we had over thirty people attend.
BF: Was it difficult to immigrate to Canada in those years or was it relatively easy?
CE: Well, we had to be examined, you know have a physical examination to see that we were well enough and of course we both, thankfully passed that; and we had sold our home, just given everything up because I thought ‘When I get to Canada I’ll be able to buy everything new.’ Little did I know the hardships that we were going to face when we got here. My husband’s business being a picture-framer at the time, it wasn’t easy to get into that kind of business on your own because in those days people weren’t interested in art the way they are now and so all the picture framing was done by the big stores, Woodward’s or Eaton’s.
BF: Where was your first store located in Vancouver?
CE: He didn’t open his first store, no. In Bradford he had opened his first store but in Vancouver he was never able to open his first store. First of all, at the time when we came to Canada from England, we were only able to bring a certain amount of money with us and each year it had to be a certain amount, and to start with, you know, by the time we had paid all our expenses for coming here, there was not a lot of money to play around with. So we didn’t even think about opening our own store. I would say that both my husband and I were always too cautious about going into debt, we would never ever buy anything until we could pay for it. So that taking a loan to open a business was just an unheard of thing.
Interviewer: Irene Dodek & Cyril Leonoff
ID: And what was the trip over like on the ship? Do you remember the trip?
JD: Nope. We went from Danzig to England. The worst trip I ever saw. It was only supposed to be 24 hours on the ship. It took us about two days. Everybody was sick. And that ship was going like that and like this. Terrible. You know, I had never went on a ship. [When I got out] of the ship it was just marvellous. And I woke up about 10 o’clock at night. Oh yes. I ate a hotdog with some mustard and then it all came up and I never ate mustard for probably another 20 years after that. I just couldn’t look at mustard anymore. And we got into England and then we got turned back by the…so we had to stay there another month and a half.
ID: Where did you stay in England?
JD: It was like an army camp.
ID: Like a hostel.
JD: Yeah, an army camp.
ID: Was there a Jewish community there that helped feed you or look after
you at all?
JD: Nobody. I never saw anybody. The only time I ever got something and I obviously remember, I said, “If I ever had any money I’ll pay them back.” When I got on the train from wherever, Atlantic in Canada, they brought me, the Jewish people got a bag, oranges, apples, bread…I was very thankful.
ID: So you landed in Quebec someplace, I guess, did you? That’s where the
ID: What were your first impressions of this land?
JD: Well I’ll tell you, when I got on that train, sitting up here for five days. And they were heating it with coals, in the train, you know. I was sitting up for five days. And I saw all that wilderness you used to go through and I thought, “What in the hell did I let myself into?” I thought the whole of Canada was all full of lumber, you know. You know how the train goes through different places.
RT: We were talking about how a group of Jewish people in Nelson formed a cultural association and had an alliance with Canadian Jewish Congress, who helped them in various ways. What were some of the things that happened with Congress’ help?
MD: Well, my particular interest was in the cultural part of it because of the diversity of the Jewish types. I, being quite interested in the Yiddish language, but unable to share much of it because of lack of Jewish speaking people and the—so my interest was the cultural part, the having seders and holidays. And we began to celebrate them in a non-religious way. And so occasionally we’d rent space in a church or community centre and have, you know, potluck and so on. And then there would be some emphasis on the Jewish particular holiday.
The most recent one was I think around less than a year ago. We were able to get maybe twenty, thirty people together for a holiday celebration and at that time my, one of my youngest grandchildren was studying music, the violin, and David Feldman came along with his band of—he was trying to start a klezmer band—and my grandson got very enthusiastic. He was only, like, thirteen or younger, and picked it up very,very well (laughs).