JHSBC Oral History Collection
ID: How did you feel about becoming a parent for the first time?
EH: Oh incredible, incredible because Paul was against it at the time. I was in England and I was very depressed about my family, extremely depressed because no news and in the Blitz it was pretty tough. So I said to Paul that I would like to have a baby, that was after the collapse of France. So he said, “This is insanity, I mean look we may be invaded, and the money, I haven’t got a job here,” because we had export to England, we had an office in London so once the war started, you know, the office wasn’t any more. So I said, “Look it’s true we don’t have that money,” but I wasn’t so used to it then only three years. But I said, “We’re not left completely without money so whatever happens to us will happen to the child,” and I said, “I don’t think I can survive the war without my family and without anyone.” So Paul said, “But it doesn’t make sense,” he said, “because we can be invaded,” I said, “I know it doesn’t make sense but I feel so lonely that I just can’t. I have to have something to live for.” So we started trying to have a baby for a month I hadn’t conceived and I was so stupid I went to a doctor, to a specialist, and he said, “For what are you here?” And I said, “I cannot become pregnant.” And he said, “How long did you try?” and I said, “One month.” [Laughter]. So that’s how Irene was conceived in London and I think that saved in a way my life.
ID: Did it?
EH: Absolutely, I went through a terrible time through the Blitz because we went at a very bad time in the Blitz but at the same time that made us come to Canada.
ID: That gave you more of an impetus to move.
ID: You told me some stories about entertainers on the beach.
MD: Oh yeah.
ID: Tell me about them.
MD: Again we’re talking about the Depression years.
ID: What years were these now?
MD: So we’re talking about 19…okay, so we arrived in Vancouver in 1935, I was five in the summer and just turned six in November. And in the summer months things really are much the same now as they were then with the concrete boardwalk that we have there with the…right on Beach Avenue. And people were poor. People were trying to find some means of earning a living and particularly the entertainers. The entertainers were lined up…Now the entertainers that we see now are these, what do you call them, buckster…hucksters?
MD: Hucksters, whatever. Anyhow they were more down on the beach…
MD: Bus, yeah. Buskers. But these were real professional entertainers, they were ventriloquists, they were dancers, they were singers…
ID: Did [inaudible]?
MD: They [couldn’t]. These were people that at one time were probably on radio or vaud…mostly vaudeville. And they were lined up and there was series of them. And it was like, it was really, it was like a series of vaudeville acts all going on at the same time.
ID: Would they put a hat out or something for money?
MD: Yeah, yeah, people had their hats out for money and you’d walk and you’d put a few pennies in. And the area where Milestone’s Café is, where…
ID: At the corner of Davie and…
MD: Yeah, Davie…and Den…Denman and Davie. And all the way up. As a matter of fact all the way up to Pendrell, along there on the west side of Denman there was a series of hotdog stands. These were actually built into the homes and at the back people and upstairs people lived. And in the front these were all concessions. And there was the aroma, you walk down the street in the summer on Denman Street and one after another hamburgers, hamburger stands. People were selling hamburgers and hotdogs.
ID: All along Denman.
MD: It was a like a huge carnival there. So if you can just picture the carnival atmosphere of the hamburger stands, the hotdog stands on one side and across the street on Beach Avenue facing the English Bay were all these entertainers. It was lively.
ID: Every night? Every day? All day?
MD: Almost, almost every night. Obviously during the day the hamburger stands were still functioning particularly on the weekends but at night the combination of the entertainers and the sounds and smells of the hamburgers, sizzling hamburgers, was unbelievable.
JB: Sylvia, where were you born?
SH: I was born in Calcutta.
JB: And when were you born?
JB: Who were the first of your family to come to Canada and why?
SH: We were the only two, my husband and I.
JB: And what’s your husband’s name?
SH: George Augustus Hill.
JB: Okay, and why did you guys come to Canada?
SH: We came after the war and because my husband knew Canada as a child. He came when he was a boy of 15 from England and worked on farms here. And he always loved Canada. So then he went back to England after the war years and it was so drab and so difficult. And I came from a home that was fairly affluent and I didn’t do much work, house work or anything. So he said, “Look, let’s go to Canada. You will love Canada.” And so we came over to Canada.
JB: And where did you come at first?
SH: We came over at a time where England froze our money. 1948. England froze all our money and we came to Canada with 10 pounds. That was all the money we had. And my life really began here. I began to learn what it was to cook, to scrub, to wash. And really began life because before that we always had help.
JB: And did you come straight to Vancouver or?
SH: No, we stopped over at New York because I had relatives there. We visited for a while, borrowed money from my cousin, and then we came straight on to Canada. Very fortunately, very lucky, we met a family—this is interesting—we met a family when the train stopped at Regina. And an old gentleman was coming up to the train to get in. I was very pregnant, I was nine months pregnant. And he saw me standing in the doorway and he said, “Shalom aleichem [Hebrew greeting],” to me. I said, “Aleichem Shalom.” He said, “I knew you were Jewish.”
SH: Just like that, I’d never met this gentleman before. And we started talking. And my husband who is never very far from me ever, he said, “Why not ask the gentleman into the compartment and talk to him rather than standing in the doorway?” So we did. He asked us if we knew anyone here. No. Had a doctor here. No. Relatives here. No. He says, “[Where are] you taking your wife?” So he said, “Now I’m going to telegram my sister in Vancouver and she’s going to meet you.”
JB: Do you remember what her name was?
SH: Yes, Fannie Segall. So Fannie and Peter Segall met us in Vancouver. And right away they came up to us and said, “You’re coming to stay with us.” Hadn’t met them in my life before. Of course my husband he was very, he said, “No I can’t. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. I can’t just come and live in your house.” And he said, “We’re Jewish we can all live.” But he was rather adamant so we stayed in a hotel. But the very next morning Peter was at the hotel. He said, “Your wife is coming to our doctor.” And they looked after us in the beginning and, because I was soon, one week after I was here my baby was born.
JG: What did your parents do for a living?
LK: My father was in the clothing business. He had a store called Regent Tailors. And he, he came out here, my father came out here from Toronto originally to open Tip Top Tailors in Vancouver. My grandfather, my mother’s father, was one of the owners of Tip Top Tailors, one of the starters of the company.
JG: Name? His name?
LK: Cohen, his name was Cohen. Israel Cohen. And my father came out here to open the Tip Top Tailors in this area which he did do. And later on had an opportunity to go into business for himself. A chain of stores called Regent Tailors had broken up and he had the opportunity to buy one for $200 [laughs]. That’s hard to believe, to go into business for $200. He couldn’t, he couldn’t get the, put the money together. He had to take in a partner for $100.
JG: Oh my.
LK: [Laughs]. And the business started in 1932 and finally folded up 50 years later in 1982. My father had passed away before that of course and my brother and myself took over the business and we ran it until the clothing business collapsed and we had to close it up.
BD: Well, we were on the, there wasn’t a Canadian set up at all at that time.
ID: Not in the Eastern part of Canada?
BD: No, we were all part of the American, we had regions. We were part of the ‘Western Interstate’ which was California, Seattle…Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. Albert I think was included too but there was nothing there. We were already organized but we were part of the Western Interstate. And then, I’ve just forgotten the year that…maybe I have it here, when the Canadian, the National Council of Jewish Women was formed. Of course we severed our roots, severed our connections, we were still part of the international group, but we became a separate organization with our own government, with our own rules, and bylaws, and so on and so on.
In 1924 when Council first started, it was only of course volunteers that did everything we used to do. And now my particular job at that time was carrying treats, like carrying chocolate bars, rice pudding on occasion.
ID: To whom?
BD: To the old ladies in the incurable ward of the Marpole Hospital.
ID: My goodness.
BD: That was part of my job there. It reminds me, you know now volunteer work is an entirely different story but in those days it was terribly important.
ID: [It’s probably as important today].
BD: Council’s work in the community was really recognized those days because we worked in various fields. They had tag days, they’d call on Council for the Community Chest drives, [and they’d] have over the years too, those days we had Council—there was a tag day almost every Saturday, you know, for some thing or the other. Always Council was called upon and always we provided the volunteers for the Community Chest after that was started. And wherever you were needed in the community, you were called upon, and you found volunteers to do it.
ID: And this was sort of Jewish representation for community work?
ID: And was it hard to find volunteers or could they offer their services readily?
BD: People had help, help was attainable in their homes for very reasonable amounts of money. Some people paid $25 a month for help, yeah. I didn’t, I never believed in that sort of thing, I always paid more. But we all had help so that we were free to do work in the community.
ID: Yes, that makes a difference.
BD: In the early days too, when all this immigration was going on following our organization’s beginnings we organized what we called the Well Baby Clinic. There was a lot of immigration here and hardly any of the women in Council could speak Jewish [Yiddish]. Couldn’t understand it, couldn’t speak it, but there was a great need for, for giving these people advice, whether it was to take care of their babies, whether it was to help them to become, to have a bit of a social life, and that sort of thing. And that’s where we did a good job. Our Well Baby Clinic was conducted in the Heatley Avenue synagogue, which was the first synagogue in Vancouver. It was Schara Tzedeck in reality but it was Heatley Avenue. We used to meet in the big hall…
ID: Now this was strictly the Jewish immigrants that had come and were coming to the Well Baby Clinic?
BD: That’s right, they came to the Well Baby Clinic. And it was my job, it was Dr. Davies who was the doctor, girls like Frances [Weinrobe], Charlotte Boyaner, Jenny Chess was the nurse incidentally, you know she’s Jenny Brotman now.
AK: At what point did you come to British Columbia?
GZ: Let’s see, I got married and we were married a couple of years and my husband was working for the Army & Navy in Edmonton and he had worked for the Army & Navy also in Vancouver but he then decided he would like to have his own business and he was looking around and he found this store in Mission, British Columbia, that’s about forty miles from Vancouver. So we moved, I had at that time one child, he was nearly a year old and we moved to Mission, the only Jewish family in Mission.
AK: That’s very interesting, so you met your husband in Edmonton.
GZ: In Edmonton.
AK: How did you meet?
GZ: He was working across the street and I was working as a credit manager in this place and that’s how we met.
AK: What’s his name?
GZ: His name was Sam Zivot.
AK: And so you were initially in Edmonton and then he found this opportunity in Mission and you pulled up your roots and came to British Columbia.
GZ: Right, so then we were there for about seven years, I had two more children both of them born in Mission, one is a daughter and the other is a younger son who, when he was born, we had to bring in the mohel [person who performs circumcisions] from Bellingham, Washington State, [laughs] so we brought him in and he was circumcised there
AK: So now you have three children.
GZ: I had three children now and I felt very strongly about having them educated and being Jewish. We met a Jewish family in Abbotsford which was across, we met a Jewish family in Chilliwack and we sort of all got together for holidays, sort of, and then as time went on and my youngest was five, yeah five, seven and nine, I said to my husband “We cannot,”—because we were running into New Westminster on Sundays so that they would have Sunday school, we were running to Bellingham to go to synagogue.
AK: How long was the drive to go to synagogue?
GZ: Oh Bellingham, not very long, about an hour.
AK: Right, but it’s still quite a drive.
GZ: So the funniest thing that happened was when my second child was born, and we were living in Mission of course, and it was Christmas time and we were driving into Vancouver and of course there were Christmas lights and Christmas lights and the oldest one said, “Oh I want Christmas lights,” and I said “Lou, you are Jewish, we don’t have Christmas lights and we don’t have Christmas trees.” “I want a Christmas tree and I want lights,” and I said “Lou, you’re Jewish, we don’t have those.” Fine, but now a week later I’m bathing the baby and the doorbell rings and I said to Lou, “Lou, go see who’s at the door,” because the doors were all…and he says, “A man says he’s selling Christmas trees.” And I hear this little voice that says, “Oh no, we’re Jewish.” So I was so excited that it got to him. Then I said to my husband, “We can’t do this.” I says, “We have to move somewhere where they can be with Jewish people and have a Jewish education.”
AK: I think you said you were the only Jewish family in Mission?
GZ: We were the only Jewish family in Mission but we had Jewish friends in Abbotsford and...So anyway my Dad at that time had a yard goods store, fabrics, in Edmonton and he suggested that we have a fabric store in Calgary. So that was fine, he went to Calgary to find out a location, etcetera, etcetera, and we moved to Calgary where the children had Jewish family also, I had two sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law living there with their children…
MS: Did you also not have an involvement in 1949 with the redeemed children of Europe who were brought over by Canadian Jewish Congress? Could you tell us something about that?
LZ: Well, that came to be, also that came under as part of my responsibilities, the work of Canadian Jewish Congress and the Jewish Family Service Agency which was a functional part of the Jewish administrative organization so I became involved with the absorption of those children which had come in the same year that I had arrived. They had come some months before I did and had been placed in homes, some that came were actually adopted. But I became directly involved with them too. We organized a club that met to sort of retain the relationship that those youngsters had. They came with fears and with traumatic experiences and so on and they needed a lot of attention and a lot of support and this was given through Jean Rose and her committee and through the staff of the Jewish Family Service agency which about that time was, consisted of Jessie Allman, and so there was quite a bit of involvement with those children and in later years other waves of immigrants that came too.
ID: Rae what’s your full name? Is Rae short for something?
RT: That’s the only name I have is Rachel.
ID: Rachel. And your maiden name was?
RT: Yes, and I was born on a farm in Lipton, [Saskatchewan] which was a Hirsch colony and my mother came over to that colony with four children and a nephew. My father was still in the Russian army.
ID: She came by herself?
RT: She came herself with the four children. My two older brothers and my two older sisters and a nephew, Sam Rabinovitch, whom you must know. And we were given a piece of land, but there was nothing but a shack, a farmhouse, and really I don’t think it was worth living in but it was the best we had. The first thing my mother did was plant a vegetable garden because she had to feed her children. Well, when my father came out of the army he immediately left Russia and he came over with somebody else, I don’t remember, somebody in the family. I think it must have been my uncle [Mr. Greisdorf] who eventually married my mother’s sister. We lived there and then we moved to [Kelliher], Saskatchewan because my father wanted to open up a store.
ID: Before we go onto that, what year were you born?
RT: I was born in 1908.
ID: Okay, so how old were you when you moved to [Kelliher]?
RT: Well, I couldn’t have been more than a couple of years old, maybe less than that, because my father didn’t want to stay on the farm. He wasn’t a farmer. And my youngest brother was born in [Kelliher] and that made us a family of six.
In 1938 Margaret Libbert and her family left Czechoslovakia for England due to increasing German aggression in that area.
ML: And then of course the Germans marched into the whole of Czechoslovakia in March, ‘39. We finished our year at school and in April of ‘39, my grandmother on my father’s side, she was, she got out and somehow her chauffeur was driving and German tanks were coming in the opposite direction and she managed to get out and join us in London. And then came the big effort to get her husband, my grandfather, who was the head of the German department Chamber of Commerce, member of the Rotary Club, and all these things and he somehow thought nothing could possibly happen to him because of his position.
Yet, I should explain that in Czechoslovakia the German minority—because it had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire—had retained very generous language rights, they had their own schools, and as I said they had their own department of commerce. And there was a large German minority which of course, after the war, was thrown out by the Czechs. But the Germans said, ‘Oh, this minority’s badly treated and so we have to come and help rescue them.’ That was one of the excuses they gave for invading Czechoslovakia.
But as I said, my grandfather just couldn’t believe that anything would happen. And so we had our family and made arrangements and sent over an Englishman, because England was still, you know, not at war with Germany, to try and find my grandfather. And he has written a book, it’s called Epic of the Gestapo, it is out of print but we have copies, our family has copies of this.
AG: Who wrote the book, this Englishman?
ML: The Englishman called Sir Paul Dukes. And he eventually found a man that had died in mysterious circumstances on the border of Czechoslovakia and Germany and we think that that was probably my grandfather, with a different name. So all this was going on and at the same time we were contacting various embassies of countries to see where we could go because we only had a limited visa to stay in England. So I’m finally getting to your question…
AG: It’s very interesting.
ML: …of how we got to Canada.
AG: Of course. It’s a significant part, this background.
ML: And we were very, very, very fortunate to be one of the thousand people, that I believe there were only a thousand people that were let in by Order in Council, that is cabinet making special, for each family a special order during these times. And I must admit that it was probably because we had some funds and probably because my father said he would try and set up a business. A bit like letting the Chinese in, you know, having to have a minimum amount of money now. But that’s how it was, because in those days the only immigration quota was for British or French speaking people. I don’t think anybody else was allowed in until the late ‘40s, ‘50s. I know this because later on in my life I worked for the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.
AG: I thought you did. And no one of course, there’s lot of books written now about who was not allowed in…the “none is too many.”
ML: Yes, that’s right. So we were, I think we were the first ones to arrive of our family. But in a few weeks, because it was a week before the war started, that we came.
AG: So precisely, what week was that?
ML: It was August, ‘39.
AG: August, ‘39, you arrived where? In Canada?
ML: In Quebec.
LT: My full name is Leon Isaac Tessler.
ID: And your name in Hebrew would be?
LT: Leib Yitzhak Tessler.
ID: And you had your parents’ names?
LT: My mother’s name was Annie. My father’s name was Israel. He was one of five Tessler brothers. Originally there were five Tessler brothers in Winnipeg. He was the oldest of the five.
ID: Where did they come from Leon?
LT: Kremenets in Russia.
ID: Did your grandparents come out with them?
LT: No. I never met or knew my grandparents.
ID: What year did your parents come?
LT: In 1902.
ID: Directly to Winnipeg?
LT: To Winnipeg, yeah. Pardon me, my father first of all came to the United States to St. Paul where another brother had preceded him and they sent him to a small town in South Dakota, Sioux Falls, South Dakota as he was a tailor and this is where my father learned to speak English beautifully because there was no other Jewish people in this town and he had to learn English. My father spoke English without any accent of any kind and then somehow they heard that there were opportunities in Winnipeg. So my father came and then four other brothers at different times came to Winnipeg.
ID: When did you bring your mother over?
LT: My mother followed much later, she came with one of the brothers…